Strengthening protections for human subjects: Proposed restrictions on the publication of transplant research involving prisoners


  • Kristin M. Paulson, J.D., M.P.H. and Alisha Hilde, J.D., M.P.P. were at the University of Minnesota when they worked on this project. They are currently not affiliated with an academic institution.

  • Maryam Valapour was supported by the National Institutes of Health through a career development award (grant K23HL06210 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) that supported her efforts on this project.

Address reprint requests to Maryam Valapour, M.D., M.P.P., Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota, N504 Boynton, 410 Church Street Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Telephone: 612-625-9440; FAX: 612-624-9108; E-mail:


Publication is one of the primary rewards in the academic research community and is the first step in the dissemination of a new discovery that could lead to recognition and opportunity. Because of this, the publication of research can serve as a tacit endorsement of the methodology behind the science. This becomes a problem when vulnerable populations that are incapable of giving legitimate informed consent, such as prisoners, are used in research. The problem is especially critical in the field of transplant research, in which unverified consent can enable research that exploits the vulnerabilities of prisoners, especially those awaiting execution. Because the doctrine of informed consent is central to the protection of vulnerable populations, we have performed a historical analysis of the standards of informed consent in codes of international human subject protections to form the foundation for our limit and ban recommendations: (1) limit the publication of transplant research involving prisoners in general and (2) ban the publication of transplant research involving executed prisoners in particular. Liver Transpl 19:362–368, 2013. © 2013 AASLD.