Unresolved legal and ethical issues in research of adults with severe traumatic brain injury: Analysis of an ongoing protocol

Theresa Louise Bender Pape*, Nancy Oddi Jaffe, Teresa Savage, Eileen Collins, Deborah Warden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This paper synthesizes federal and state laws and bioethics literature with observations from an ongoing research protocol to identify, define, and clarify the unresolved legal and ethical issues regarding research involving adults with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Solutions that protect rights and minimize unnecessary impediments to valuable clinical and scientific inquiry are also illustrated using the same protocol. Research was performed at intensive care, inpatient rehabilitation, and long-term acute chronic hospitals. Our research protocol identified five areas of law impacting adults with TBI: advanced directives, healthcare surrogacy acts, probate acts, power of attorney acts, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The published bioethics literature and responses from local human subject institutional review boards (IRBs) suggest that some of the unresolved ethical issues in research include defining vulnerability, defining informed voluntary consent, determining competency and/or decision-making capacity, using caregivers as subjects, and conducting multisite cooperative studies. Collaboration with IRB members and administrators as well as legal and research ethic scholars developed procedures that protect rights while avoiding unnecessary impediments to research. Investigations of persons with TBI and other cognitive impairments are governed by complicated and inconsistent regulations within the Common Rule and federal and state statues. A need for clear and consistent regulatory guidance regarding multisite studies of TBI persists. In lieu of regulatory guidance, carefully researched solutions for critical peer review are needed to guide future multisite investigations of TBI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-173
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Rehabilitation Research and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Altered consciousness
  • Bioethics
  • Regulations
  • Statutes
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation


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