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Ethical aspects of research into the etiology of autism.

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Office of Clinical Director, Intramural Research Program, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Advances in understanding autism and other developmental neuropsychiatric disorders will come from an integration of various research strategies including phenomenologic, functional neuroimaging, and pharmacologic methods, as well as epidemiologic approaches aimed at identifying genetic and environmental risk factors. The highly heritable nature of autism makes it scientifically valuable to involve parents and siblings as research participants. However, many studies on autism pose ethical challenges because they do not offer the prospect of direct benefit to subjects. In this article, we present an in-depth ethical analysis of current nontherapeutic research strategies that are common in autism research. The ethical analysis applies a proposed ethical framework for evaluating clinical research focusing on seven ethical requirements: (1) social or scientific value, (2) scientific validity, (3) fair subject selection, (4) favorable risk-benefit ratio, (5) independent review, (6) informed consent, and (7) respect for potential and enrolled research participants.

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