Should Research Ethics Encourage the Production of Cost-effective Interventions?

Publication Date


Document Type

Book Chapter

Organizational Units

Sturm College of Law


Human subject research, IRB, Cost-effective medicine


This project considers whether and how research ethics can contribute to the provision of cost-effective medical interventions. Clinical research ethics represents an underexplored context for the promotion of cost-effectiveness. In particular, although scholars have recently argued that research on less-expensive, less-effective interventions can be ethical, there has been little or no discussion of whether ethical considerations justify curtailing research on more expensive, more effective interventions. Yet considering cost-effectiveness at the research stage can help ensure that scarce resources such as tissue samples or limited subject populations are employed where they do the most good; can support parallel efforts by providers and insurers to promote cost-effectiveness; and can ensure that research has social value and benefits subjects. I discuss and rebut potential objections to the consideration of cost-effectiveness in research, including the difficulty of predicting effectiveness and cost at the research stage, concerns about limitations in cost-effectiveness analysis, and worries about overly limiting researchers’ freedom. I then consider the advantages and disadvantages of having certain participants in the research enterprise, including IRBs, advisory committees, sponsors, investigators, and subjects, consider cost-effectiveness. The project concludes by qualifiedly endorsing the consideration of cost-effectiveness at the research stage. While incorporating cost-effectiveness considerations into the ethical evaluation of human subjects research will not on its own ensure that the health care system realizes cost-effectiveness goals, doing so nonetheless represents an important part of a broader effort to control rising medical costs.