The Question of Ill-Gotten Gains

Honor’s Assignment

Phil 380 Introduction to Biomedical Ethics

Topic: The Question of Ill-Gotten Gains

The history of medical research is replete with examples of unethical research.  The Tuskegee Syphilis Studies, Nazi Concentration Camp Experiments, Willowbrook Hepatitis Experiments, The Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphanage dysentery experiments and the United States military radiation experiments are just a small sampling of a long history of trampling on the rights and values of human beings in the name of scientific progress.  Often the moist vulnerable members of our population, children, prisoners, the poor and uneducated, the military rank and file, and the mentally handicapped were conscripted into human experimentation usually without their consent and without being properly informed of what they were being subjected to.  While there has been a wide agreement on morally condemning such human experimentation, there is some debate as to whether it is ethically permissible to take advantage of the medical benefits and knowledge gained through such experiments.  This is often referred to the question of ill-gotten gains.  As we look back at the many unethical human experiments of the past, we find that, while the means used to obtain medical information was often horrific, the information gained was often quite legitimate and useful in advancing medical knowledge. Should we use such knowledge?  Some argue no, that it would be an endorsing and condoning the means employed to obtain the information.  Others argue that the use would be an insult to those victims of the unethical experimentation.  However, some argue that great benefits can be gained in using the information.  Many of those who are currently suffering could be treated and perhaps cured of their afflictions.  They argue that to use the information is not to condone the means by which it was procured and they ask, “Are others to suffer when we know the information necessary to help them is being withheld just because it was obtained unethically?”  Your paper is to step into this debate, examine all of the arguments and come to well-reasoned, well-researched answer to the question: should we make use of the results of ill-gotten gains?


1. The paper should be a minimum of 10 pages (3000 words) and no more than 15 pages (4500 words).

2. The paper should be typed, double spaced with appropriate margins.  An appropriate title page should be included (no folders please).  Pages should be numbered (except title page) and it should be stapled in the upper left hand corner.

3. The paper is to incorporate footnotes, a bibliography and should conform to Turabian style.

4. The paper will include references to specific sources (see below) and cases as well as the use of at least five outside sources.

Your paper should include the following:

  • A discussion of the major arguments on all sides of the issue.  This should be balanced, academically presented, citing appropriate sources.  Avoid using emotional language, making unsupported claims, or treating an opposing view in a disrespectful manner.  This is to be an intelligent discussion and not just an opinion paper or an opportunity to rant.
  • The paper must include your own position on the issue.  This should exhibit reflection and be well supported with good reasoning.
  • The paper should exhibit outside research and original thinking.  While you may refer to class lectures or the textbook, it is not to be merely a repeat of lectures or assigned reading. You are to use a minimum of five sources (not including class notes or lectures).  All sources should be referenced and cited in the body of the paper.
  • While it is expected that you will cite and refer to sources, the paper is not to be just a bunch of quotes strung together with little of your own input.  It should exhibit your structure and reasoning.  Don’t just tell me what everybody else says.
  • While you may use your Christian beliefs and refer to biblical verses in your reasoning, these should be well supported.  Do not just list or cite verses.  As a general rule no verse should be cited without an explanation of its original context, meaning, and how it applies to this particular issue.
  • The paper should be clear, well-structured and easy for anyone to read. It should contain a clear thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph.  The thesis statement should answer the question, “What, in the end, do I intend to tell you in this paper?”  The pro and con arguments should be grouped together and be stated clearly.  You should conclude with your well-reasoned position on the issue.


This paper is for honors credit only and will not be incorporated into the student’s final grade for the class.  It will be strictly credit/no credit.  However, the paper should be written at no less than a ‘B’ level.  Papers deemed less than a ‘B will not receive honors credit.  The following criteria will be taken into consideration in awarding honors credit:

1. Structure – is it put together well, does it flow well. Is there a clear thesis statement and the paper reflects this statement.

2. Clarity – are significant terms defined, is it lucid in meaning and reasoning.

3. Accuracy- are facts presented accurately, supported and well researched.

4. Depth and insightfulness – does it demonstrate reflective and original thinking.

5. Basic requirements: does it meet the basic minimum requirements (handed in on time, minimum number of pages, correct spelling and grammar, minimum number of sources, correct style, etc.)

Specific sources you must read and cite:

Henry K. Beecher, M.D., “Ethics and Clinical Research”, N Engl J Med  June 16, 1966.

Aaron Ridley, “Ill-Gotten Gains: On the Use of Results from Unethical Experiments in Medicine,” Public Affairs Quarterly, Volume9 , Number3 , July1995.

Benjamin Freedman, “Research, Unethical” in the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, 2nd Ed. Warren t. Reich, Editor. (1995). (later editions are allowable)

Hans Jonas, “Experimentation with Human Subjects” (1969) reprinted in Tom L. Beauchamp and LeRoy Walters, Contemporary Issues in Bioethics, 3rd Ed (Belmont Ca: Wadsworth Publishers, 1989). 

David Rothman in “Research Human: Historical Aspects” in The Encyclopedia of Bioethics Vol 4, New York: Simon Schuster and Macmillan, 1995.

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