Skip to main content

The critique of vulnerability offered by Levine et al. (2004) affirms recent discussions about the disutility of this imputed characteristic of individuals and groups for protecting research subjects. Being “too broad,” vulnerability stereotypes whole categories of individuals, and everyone might be considered vulnerable. Being “too narrow,” vulnerability’s focus on group characteristics diverts attention from features of the research project and its environment that might affect subjects. We agree with these assessments. The application of a label of “vulnerability” to particular groups resembles the disfavored legal category of “status crimes” like vagrancy or homelessness. Such an externally imposed label is static and thought to inhere in the person; moreover, besides being potentially misleading, it is highly likely to exacerbate stigma and dependency.