These human guinea pigs can earn up to several thousand dollars for participating in research studies that can last weeks or months. The risks they face, though, can be high. The obvious dangers come from the drugs themselves. In March 2006, for example, six volunteers who participated in tests of a potential treatment for immune disorders were almost killed, and apparently all are now permanently disabled. In addition, testing sometimes involves invasive and potentially dangerous procedures such as biopsies or endoscopies. Moreover, most clinical trials don’t cover medical costs—let alone compensation for pain or lost wages—when volunteers are injured or become ill as a result of the experiments. Participating in drug trials can also be extremely unpleasant, requiring subjects to wear rectal probes, experience food or sleep deprivation, live for weeks in hospital like environs, or the like.
In addition to the risks faced by volunteers, the public is also placed at risk when drugs are tested in these circumstances. When subjects participate because they need money, they may feel no qualms about ignoring research protocols, such as sneaking food or alcohol when they are supposed to fast or abstain. Similarly, when researchers are employed by for-profit corporations, they may be inclined to interpret results optimistically or to recruit homeless alcoholics who need money rather than spending the time needed to recruit a more representative sample.