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Shofar FTP Archive File: miscellany/medical-experimentation/experimentation-on-handicapped-without-consent

                       Electronic Telegraph
                              UK News
    Monday 7 April 1997                              Issue 68

      EU rule will allow medical research on handicapped
                     By Sebastien Berger

A NEW European convention will allow medical research
to be conducted on people who cannot consent to it,
even in cases where it does not benefit them.

The subjects could include children, people in a
persistent vegetative state, and those with mental
handicaps. Anti-euthanasia campaigners yesterday
condemned the convention's provisions and groups for
the handicapped dismissed its safeguards as
inadequate. Medical sources, however, insisted its
terms were reasonable.

The Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and
Biomedicine was signed by 21 countries - but not
Britain - last week. It allows research on people who
cannot consent, as long as it is research into their
own "condition, disease or disorder" that could help
others with the same problem.

Dr Peggy Norris, chairman of Against Legalised
Euthanasia - Research and Teaching, described it as
"creeping euthanasia". "We have got to protect people
who cannot give consent because they are very
vulnerable and we have to be civilised enough to look
after them," she added.

The document specifies that any research on
non-consenting subjects should "entail only minimal
risk and minimal burden for the individual concerned",
for example taking a blood sample, but campaigners for
the mentally handicapped dismissed the safeguard.
Klaus Lachwitz, secretary general of the International
League of Societies for Persons with Mental Handicaps,
said: "Unless these provisions are adequately defined,
this protection is meaningless."

Lord Ashbourne, a Conservative peer who has asked
questions in the House of Lords on the subject, said:
"Doctors do research for the most laudable reasons,
but sometimes they go too far. What they are trying to
do is get the door open a chink, and once it's open a
chink they can kick it wide open. This came up with
the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill back in
1990. They got the door open then and now we have got
all sorts of things going on."

Britain did not sign up to the convention last week
because of the election but Health Department
officials said it would be considered by the next
government. Medical sources said its provisions were
entirely reasonable, and similar to the Royal College
of Physicians' current guidelines. They said many
discoveries had been possible only by allowing
research on non-consenting people.

David Morton, professor of biomedical science and
ethics at the University of Birmingham, felt research
would be acceptable. "I think there are very special
instances where it would not be unreasonable to
consider using people in a permanent vegetative state
in one way or another," he said. Prof Morton, who is
also a vet, called for a national ethics committee to
be set up. He said animals in Britain had better
protection than people when it came to research.

              8 April 1996: Patients in coma 'could be used for

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