Military medical research requires informed consent from test subjects, which is difficult to obtain for deployed (in-theatre) or prehospital studies where patients are incapacitated and legal representatives are not available. Although US and UK regulations make provisions for exceptions to informed consent, these are rarely used, thereby hindering trauma research and prospective experimental studies of new devices, surgeries or drugs. In their place, a survey of research articles published in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps and Military Medicine between 2004 and 2018 shows how researchers turned to clinical surveys and retrospective, case or animal studies instead. The reluctance to enrol military personnel in interventional studies stems from past instances of abuse and current misperceptions of soldiers as a particularly vulnerable class of research subjects. Increasing the pool of research subjects to facilitate interventional studies to improve combat casualty care requires honing military medical ethics in two ways. First, it is important to implement existing informed consent regulations without special regard for the status of service personnel. This will expedite approval of waivers of informed consent. Second, aggressively recruiting civilians for military-related medical research increases the number of subjects available for trauma research. Community consultation and public discourse are the proper venues to deliberate on each recommendation.
- medical ethics
- informed consent
- combat casualty care
- vulnerable research populations
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Contributors MG is the sole author.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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