Abstract: A good deal has been written on the ethics of financial inducements in research and much of it centres on the extent to which such inducements undermine participants ability to give appropriate consent. Largely following Wilkinson and Moore (1997), in this paper I reject consent as the ethical problem with financial inducements. After sketching these arguments I examine three alternative accounts of why we might feel some discomfort with the use of financial inducements in medical research. These alternatives centre on claims about exposure to risk of harm, the importance of altruism in research and the role of background inequalities in making offers attractive to potential participants. I suggest that the most promising way of understanding the discomfort is by placing research in the broader context of background social inequalities.
Mark Sheehan is Oxford BRC Ethics Fellow at the Ethox Centre and a James Martin Research Fellow in the Program on Ethics of the New Biosciences. He received his PhD in Philosophy from The City University of New York, an MA (Hons) and a BA (Hons)/BSc from the University of Melbourne. Prior to coming to Oxford he was a lecturer in the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University, Ethics Fellow at the Mt. Sinai Medical School, New York and Adjunct Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at The City College of New York.