Offshoring Clinical Trials: The Mutable Ethics, Weak Protections and Vulnerable Subjects of EU Law

Research output: Working paper


In this paper I engage with science and technology studies work on pharmaceuticalisation to explore how European Union (EU) law helps to produce and support the preference for pharmaceutical responses in public health governance, while authorising the production of vulnerable subjects through the growing off-shoring of clinical trials. Drawing on the analysis of legal and policy documents, I demonstrate how EU law allows and legitimates the use of data procured from vulnerable subjects abroad for market authorisation and corporate profitability at home. This is possible because the EU has (de)selected international ethical frameworks in order to support the continued and growing use of clinical trials data from abroad. This has helped to stimulate the revision of international ethical frameworks in light of market needs, inscribing EU public health law within specific politics (that often remained obscured by the joint workings of legal and technological discourses). I suggest that law operates as part of a broader ‘technology’ – encompassing ethics and human rights discourses – that functions to optimise life through resort to market reasoning. Law is thereby reoriented, instrumentalised and deployed as part of a broader project aimed at (re)defining and limiting the boundaries of the EU's responsibility for public health, including the broader social production of public health problems and the unequal global order that the EU represents and helps to depoliticise and perpetuate. Overall, this limits the EU's responsibility and accountability for these failures, as well as another: the weak and mutable protections and insecure legacies for vulnerable trial subjects abroad.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusPublished - 04 Dec 2013


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