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  • Rebecca L. Walker
  • Jill A. Fisher
2020
Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 29 (4) : 305-331
Full article

In phase I clinical trials, healthy volunteers are dosed with investigational drugs and subjected to blood draws and other bodily monitoring procedures while they are confined to clinic spaces. In exchange, they are paid. These participants are, in a direct sense, selling access to their bodies for pharmaceutical companies and their associates to run drugs through. However, commodification is rarely investigated as an ethical dimension of phase I trial participation. We address this gap in the literature by bringing the voices of phase I healthy volunteers into conversation with philosophical perspectives on body commodification. Querying the intersection of commodification and phase I clinical trials illuminates important features of healthy volunteers’ experiences, disentangles commodification from a dominant narrative about exploitation, and brings focus to the question of what, if any, market norms will best protect the multiple ways in which healthy volunteers’ welfare is impacted by clinical trial participation.