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The Declaration of Helsinki, adopted by the World Medical Association's General Assembly in 1964, is the most important set of guidelines about research on human participants. It both reflects and shapes the ethos of international research ethics. It is a living instrument and is reviewed and revised regularly. Its latest revision was in 2013. There are four substantial changes, reflected in the new Paragraph 15 (which deals with compensation for trial related injuries), Paragraph 33 (relating to placebos), Paragraph 20 (relating to vulnerable groups) and the new Paragraph 34 (relating to post-trial provisions). This article analyses these changes, and asks whether they indicate any shift in the overall philosophy of the Declaration. We conclude that these changes, though significant, are not tectonic. They accord with the spirit that has motivated the Declaration through all its iterations, and indicate a steady, incremental evolution towards a holistic code of research ethics for research on human participants. Patient autonomy, though crucial, is no longer the only concern of the Declaration; distributive justice and beneficence are motivating forces too. While the Declaration is aware of the need to facilitate research, it is equally aware of the need to protect the vulnerable, and of the practical difficulties involved in that protection.

Original publication




Journal article


J R Soc Med

Publication Date





184 - 189


Global health, ethics, medical education, Ethics, Research, Helsinki Declaration, Humans, Philosophy, Medical, Research, Social Justice