This page in the resources section signposts key resources on the topic of biomedical research. This can be considered from two perspectives: research on biomedical topics for military purposes and research on military personnel as research participants. Both perspectives have ethical issues that are unique to the military environment beyond those that apply in general health practice.
Biomedical scientific research can be very important for military capability. In the first instance, the human is often the primary target of weapons of war by bullets, bombs, missiles and other armaments. Beyond ‘conventional’ weapons, weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological, CBRN) have specific mechanisms that cause harm. Emerging weapons that use other physical properties such as microwave, laser, or sound can also harm the human body. It is necessary to understand the pathophysiological effects of weapons in order to develop defensive countermeasures and treatments. However, there is a risk that biomedical scientific research might be extended to develop weapons to make them more effective or find new ways of causing harm. There are examples of research conducted on concentration camp captives by the Nazis, and experiments on prisoners by the Japanese in the Second World War that were particularly horrific. This led to the development of the Nuremberg Code and then the Declaration of Helsinki. More recently, some of the research undertaken under the auspices of the military in the USA and the UK during the Cold War has been considered to be unethical. Thus it is important for policymakers and military research institutions to have ethical guidance and oversight to ensure that the purpose for military biomedical research is legal and ethical.
Military personnel may also be subjects of biomedical research, either because the research is sufficiently classified that it cannot be conducted on other participants or because the military population is the primary beneficiary of the research. There are particular risks for military personnel as research subjects because of the risk of implied or explicit coercion, lack of autonomy, and opacity of institutional oversight of such research. Again, there are historical examples where military research subjects have been harmed as a result of bad research practice. Therefore the process of ethical governance and approval of research on military subjects should be exemplary.