Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only through respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being. Such treatment falls under the principle of beneficence. Two general rules have been formulated as complementary expressions of beneficent actions in this sense:

  • Do no harm and
  • Maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms

Learning what will, in fact, benefit may require exposing persons to risk. The problem posed by these imperatives is how to decide when it is justifiable to seek certain benefits, despite the risks involved, and when the possible benefits should be foregone because of the risks. The obligations of beneficence affect both individual investigators and society at large, because they extend both to particular research projects and to the entire enterprise of research. In the case of particular projects, investigators and members of their institutions are obliged to give forethought to the maximization of benefits and the reduction of risks that might occur from a research investigation. In the case of scientific research in general, members of the larger society are obliged to recognize the longer term benefits and risks that may result from the improvement of knowledge and from the development of novel medical, psychotherapeutic, and social procedures.