Implementing the food and drug administration's final rule for waiver of informed consent in certain emergency research circumstances

Michelle H. Biros, Susan S. Fish, Roger J. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration released its Final Rule for Waiver of Informed Consent in Certain Emergency Research Circumstances (the Final Rule). The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also released an update of its regulations related to waiver of informed consent in emergency research. These new regulations allow resuscitation research to proceed with a waiver of informed consent under very narrow and specific clinical research circumstances. Waiving informed consent for research participation has profound ethical and scientific implications. However, in unpredictable life-threatening clinical situations for which current therapy is unproven or unsatisfactory, patients usually are unable to consent on their own behalf to participate in clinical trials of potentially beneficial but experimental interventions. Because of the time-dependent nature of most resuscitation interventions, it is usually not feasible to identify and contact the legally authorized representative who can speak on behalf of the patient within the presumed therapeutic window of the intervention under investigation. For such clinical trials to proceed, a waiver of informed consent is usually necessary. Patients who are critically ill or injured and unable to provide meaningful prospective informed consent because of their current life-threatening condition are vulnerable and require additional protections beyond those for research subjects who can speak on their own behalf. The Final Rule and the DHHS-updated regulations incorporate a number of additional patient safeguards that must occur if a clinical trial is to proceed with waiver of informed consent. Specific means of adequately meeting these requirements are not described in the regulations. Although this was intentional on the part of the federal regulators so that individual protocols and research environments would direct the development of these patient safeguards, the lack of specific guidance has led to confusion on the appropriate implementation of the new regulations. This article reviews some of the key concepts of the Final Rule, with suggestions on their purpose and meaning. It also reviews the studies that have been approved to date to proceed with waiver of informed consent, and offers suggestions for the process of implementing the requirements of the Final Rule for research involving patients who are unable to give prospective informed consent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1272-1282
Number of pages11
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1999


  • Emergency research
  • Informed consent.
  • Waiver of consent


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