Intended for healthcare professionals


People are “participants” in research

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 24 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1141

Further suggestions for other terms to describe “participants” are needed

  1. Iain Chalmers (, Director.
  1. UK Cochrane Centre, NHS Research and Development Programme, Oxford OX2 7LG
  2. The Old Chapel, High Street, Harwell, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 0EX
  3. 13 Edgemont Street, Glasgow G41 3EH

    EDITOR—Congratulations to Boynton for suggesting that the word “subject” should be banned from reports of research on humans.1 It was Curt Meinert, formerly editor of Controlled Clinical Trials, who first pointed out to me that the word “subject” is demeaning. Although I changed my terminology from that moment on, I found it difficult to persuade others. I was particularly disappointed that I failed in 1989 to persuade a lay group—Consumers for Ethics in Research—to purge the organisation's literature of the word.

    In an article published in 19953 I suggested that medical researchers would do well to follow the example set by the British Psychological Society.4 After noting that psychologists owe a debt to those who agree to take part in their studies, who therefore deserve to be treated with the highest standards of consideration and respect, the society recommended that the term “subject” should be abandoned and replaced by “participant.”

    I applaud the BMJ's prompt and positive response to Boynton's suggestion. The journal will find that the term “participants” works well for those …

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