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Progress in emergency and critical care requires that clinical research be performed on patients who are incapable of granting consent for research participation. Analyses of the ethics of such research have left some questions incompletely answered. Why should we be permitted to expose vulnerable patients to research risks without their consent? In particular, how do we justify research interventions that have no potential benefit for participants (nontherapeutic interventions)? This article presents a moral justification for nontherapeutic interventions in emergency research. By relying on a framework for assessing research risks, and by drawing on the example of pediatric research, this justification is founded in how institutional review boards, and society in general, analyze risk. Our justification for emergency research also suggests additional protections for emergency research participants, including a stringent threshold for research risk, that still permit important research to proceed.

(C) 2002 by the Society of Critical Care Medicine and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins