The use of human subjects in research is extremely important to the development of new knowledge in many areas. However, careful attention must be given to questions of ethics and human dignity whenever humans are subjects in research. In 1978, the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in Biomedical and Behavioral Research developed broad ethical principles to provide a basis on which specific rules could be developed. These principles are discussed in The Belmont Report, which provides the philosophical underpinnings for current Federal laws governing research involving human subjects, contained in Title 45 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 46, Protection of Human Subjects. 45 CFR Part 46 is not a set of rules that can be applied rigidly to make determinations of whether a proposed research activity is ethically "right" or "wrong." Rather, it provides a framework in which investigators and others can ensure that serious efforts have been made to protect the rights and welfare of research subjects. Also, it is the foundation for University Policy #2060 (.pdf) and must be considered in the design, conduct, and evaluation of any human subject research effort at the University.

Three basic principles are particularly relevant to the ethics of research involving human subjects: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice. These excerpts are from the Belmont Report: