Let’s not dance around the issue: for many years now, news sources like CBS, CNN, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker have called research volunteers guinea pigs. You’ve probably said it yourself. I’m here today to tell you why we need to call research volunteers by another name: Heroes.
The term “guinea pig” is condescending to both volunteers and researchers. For volunteers, it takes away the enormity of their contribution by sounding like they have no choice in the matter. If you have ever taken a prescription medicine for any reason, even an antibiotic; someone has chosen to volunteer to make sure the medicine is safe and works. If medicines down the road are to work better, we need volunteers to keep agreeing to test them.
Calling subjects “guinea pigs” also disdains the research coordinators and doctors that supervise drugs trials. Before any volunteer is admitted into a trial, coordinators fully explain what the trial entails, making sure to answer any questions or concerns of the volunteer. If the volunteer agrees, they go through a screening process to make sure they are a good fit for the trial and that the trial is safe for them. During the trial, the volunteer tells the coordinator or doctor about any medical events, including colds, broken toes, or headaches. This is also for safety, and if anything happens, the volunteer is free to stop the study or change their mind about participating. Throughout the study, the volunteer’s health is closely monitored; patient safety is always first. If a volunteer decides they no longer want to be in a clinical trial, they can withdraw from the trial at any time and will not be coerced to stay.
Before any medicine hits the market it is tested for years, with data constantly being reviewed in between trials. New medicines will go through 3 – 4 clinical trials over many years, with safety and effectiveness being the top concerns.
So, why are volunteers not guinea pigs? Guinea pigs (or any animal for that matter) don’t willingly sign up to be a part of future healthcare that could save lives. Guinea pigs are cute, fat, fuzzy, and they eat their own poop (Coprophagy). But, they do not willingly agree to be part of a trial that could save lives down the road.
So I urge you, quit using the term guinea pig for volunteers, use the term hero instead! We can’t cure diseases without heroes.
If you have volunteered for a clinical trial before, YOU ARE A HERO! If you have never participated, become a research HERO today!