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Remuneration a sticky question

Date

Peter Jean

Paying young people to undergo testing for the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia highlights the ethical dilemmas associated with remunerating people to participate in medical research or donate blood or organs.

A trial that involved paying young adults $10 for supplying urine samples for chlamydia testing at Canberra pharmacies was approved by the ethics committee of the ACT Health Directorate, the ANU and the University of Canberra. Payments to medical trial participants can raise concerns about ''coercion''.

Malcolm Parker, associate professor of medical ethics at the University of Queensland, said clinical research projects in Australia tended to offer only small payments to trial subjects. ''In Australia most of the research trial payments just amount to convenience payments for transport and that sort of thing,'' Professor Parker said.

''We're starting to see a bit more of the commercial end of the spectrum, which is very much in evidence in the UK, where many students finance their travels by booking into clinical trials and being paid £3000 or so …

''There's simply no way of making an objective judgment about where the line is above which it's unreasonable and yet we all have an intuition there is a line somewhere.''

Australian Red Cross Blood Service chief executive Jennifer Williams said relying on voluntary blood donors helped protect the integrity of the blood supply.

People hoping for payment might be less likely to disclose risk factors that would render them ineligible to donate, Ms Williams said. 

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