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Case 52. Vulnerable Populations


Professor Kathleen McGorty conducts research on the re-integration of individuals released from long-term mental health care facilities into communities in the Southwest. Her population has been selected by a team of researchers in the state department of mental health, but during the interviews, she discovers that a substantial number have not been contacted by the department and made aware of the nature of the research or its use. After requesting clarification from the sponsors of the research, he is told that this is not a case requiring consent, as it is for internal state use only.


  1. Can a researcher rely on a contract sponsor to determine appropriate safeguards, even if the contracting agent has legal responsibility for the population in question?
  2. Does state consent "cover" the researcher's responsibility for informed consent?
  3. To what extent do research responsibilities extend beyond mere consent? In the case of vulnerable populations, are there additional safeguards to be considered such as, culture and custom, or the  protection of particularly vulnerable populations such as the mentally retarded?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.