Research involving prisoners repeatedly went astray during the last century, culminating in the cruel medical experiments inside the Nazi concentration camps that gave rise to the Nuremberg Code. However, prisoners continued to become victims of scientific exploitation by the rapidly evolving biomedical research industry. The common roots of these abuses were the flawed philosophy that the needs of the society outweigh the needs of the individual and the researchers’ view that prisoners are cheap, easy to motivate and stable research subjects. Prisoners are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by research because their freedom for consent can easily be undermined, and because of learning disabilities, illiteracy and language barriers prevailing within prisoner populations. Therefore, penal laws of some countries supported by a number of internationally agreed documents prohibit research involving prisoners completely. However, prisoners must also be regarded as vulnerable to the specific health problems in prisons, e.g. transmissible diseases, mental disorders and suicide ‐ problems that need to be addressed by research involving prisoners. Additionally, the participation of prisoner patients in research they directly can benefit from should be provided. Hence, it must be a common objective to find the right balance between protection from exploitation and access to research beneficial to prisoners.
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