Visualizing the Other: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Objectification of the Body in Biomedical Research Using Human Subjects


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Throughout the brief history of biomedical research using healthy subjects, human subjects have been treated by some clinician-investigators as mere objects of study. This scientific objectification has led to some egregious violations of human dignity. This historical pattern of dehumanizing treatment indicates that some investigators saw subjects as mere objects, undeserving of respect or recognition of their intrinsic value. In response, normative guidelines and methodological constraints have been imposed upon the scientific community to prevent future abuses. Foremost among them is the imperative that investigators show respect for research subjects as persons. However, investigators have not been trained to think of subjects as persons. Instead, the rhetoric of reductionism within medical science has perpetuated the view that persons are bodies and bodies are merely biological objects. This dissertation aims to reshape the foundation of research ethics in order to focus on embodiment and, in particular, how clinician-investigators visualize and conceptualize human research subjects’ bodies. This dissertation aims to broaden and deepen the moral vision of clinician-investigators by introducing ways of seeing the body that help uncover the intrinsic value of the human research subject. By developing an ethic of recognition, reciprocity, and respect that is grounded in an aesthetic appreciation of the subjectivity of human research subjects, medical humanists will be able to teach investigators how to cultivate a more capacious sense of respect for persons.



Human Subjects Research, Research Ethics, Embodiment