The blog of the 2009 – 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Compensation Expert Addresses Commission

In the course of its review of current human subjects research protections, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues asked an international panel of experts to advise them on how the current system might be improved.  One of the recommendations of the international panel was that the U.S. government “should implement a system to compensate research subjects for research-related injuries.”  Many countries require provision for compensation, but the U.S. currently does not.  One key concern is that the current tort system does not compensate for non-negligent injury.  

Kenneth R. Feinberg

 To further explore that issue, the Commission turned to Kenneth R. Feinberg, Esq., who spoke to the Commission yesterday evening.  “We are honored and pleased to have you here today and admiring of the work you have done above and beyond the call of duty,” Commission Chair Amy Gutmann said. 

Mr. Feinberg was appointed the Special Master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund in 2001 and served until 2004.  As such, he was charged by the U.S. Government with determining how much compensation the families of the victims of 9/11 would receive.  About 97% of those eligible for the fund participated in it.    

In 2007, Virginia Tech asked Feinberg to serve as the fund administrator for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund following the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. Feinberg was responsible for awarding compensation, paid for out of the $7 million donated to Virginia Tech in the wake of the shootings, to members of the Virginia Tech community affected by the tragedy and their families.  

He currently serves as the administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which is a $20 billion fund established by BP to compensate those affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  

As he briefed the Commission, Mr. Feinberg emphasized that the Commission should consider: 

1)  Should there be compensation at all? 

2)  If you want to compensate, what form will the compensation take? For example, will it include money, medical treatment or loss of future wages? 

3)  If it means cash payments, who is paying for it? Is the Government?  Is private insurance? 

4)  How much compensation? 

5)  Who should receive payments? Should it be limited to research subjects or their dependents? 

6)  What are the criteria that trigger the payment?  Does there need to be negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct? 

7)  What are the procedures for establishing fact-finding and determination? 

The Commission will wrap up its discussion of compensation systems today and will hear from Daniel Wikler, Mary B. Saltonstall Professor of Population Ethics and Professor of Ethics and Population Health in the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard University, and Karen E. Moe, Director and Assistant Vice Provost for Research in the University of Washington Human Subjects Division.  The meeting concludes at noon today and the Commission’s final report on human subjects protections will be delivered to the President and released to the public in mid-December.

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This is a space for the members and staff of the 2009 -2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to communicate with the public about the work of the commission and to discuss important issues in bioethics.

As of January 15th, 2017 this blog will no longer be updated but continues to be available as an archive of the work of the 2009-2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

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