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Portrait of Dr. David S. Wendler
David S. Wendler, MA, PhD

Head, Section on Research Ethics


BA, University of Pennsylvania
MA, University of Wisconsin at Madison
PhD, University of Wisconsin at Madison


Portrait of Dr. David S. Wendler
David S. Wendler, MA, PhD

Head, Section on Research Ethics


BA, University of Pennsylvania
MA, University of Wisconsin at Madison
PhD, University of Wisconsin at Madison


Dr. David S. Wendler's current work focuses on the ethics of research and care with individuals who are unable to provide informed consent.

Dr. Wendler has written widely on such topics as assessing risks systematically, respect for autonomy, assent in pediatric research, research with stored biological samples, and moral status.

He is an attending on the Bioethics Consultation Service and a member of the NIH Intramural IRB.

Actively sought out as a consultant and scholar, he has consulted on minimal risk for the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections, on research with wards of the state for the Division of AIDS of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and pediatric research for the Institute of Medicine. He also has been a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia, University of Michigan, and Northwestern University, and has lectured at the University of Bergen's School of Medicine in Norway, Georgetown University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Dr. Wendler earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Pennsylvania and his master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He came to NIH in 1993 as a postdoctoral fellow with the Clinical Bioethics Program and became head of the Unit on Vulnerable Populations in 1996. He was a University fellow in Ethics at Harvard University from 2006 to 2007. He was named a senior investigator in 2014 and became head of the section on Research Ethics.

Dr. Wendler's research includes the following topics:

  1. Decisional capacity and surrogate decision making: Many individuals are unable to make their own decisions regarding medical treatment and research participation. This project uses conceptual analysis and empirical assessments to determine how decisions should be made for these individuals.
  2. Systematic evaluation of risks and potential benefits: The ethical acceptability of medical treatments and research trials depends on their having an appropriate risk/benefit profile. This project uses conceptual analysis and empirical assessments to develop methods to systematically assess the risks and potential benefits of clinical care and clinical research.
  3. Degrees of moral status: Many people believe that there are degrees of moral status. They believe, for example, that rabbits have moral status, but humans beings have higher moral status. This conceptual projects evaluates whether, in fact, there are degrees of moral status and what implications the answer has for how we should live our lives.
  4. The value in respecting autonomy: There has been significant emphasis on the ethical importance of respecting individual autonomy. However, there continues to be debate over precisely why respecting autonomy is important. This conceptual project considers the extent to which respect for autonomy traces to a factor that has received almost no attention in the philosophical and bioethics literature, namely, the value of non-intrusion.
  5. Innovative therapy: Clinicians frequently treat patients in ways that depart significantly from standard medical practice. The present conceptual project evaluates the conditions under which such innovative therapy is ethically acceptable and to what extent innovative therapy should be incorporated in clinical trials.

See his Intramural Research Program bio page.

Curriculum Vitae


Danis M, Largent E, Wendler D, Hull SC, Shah S, Millum J, Berkman B, Grady C. Research Ethics Consultation: A Casebook. Oxford University Press 2012.

Wendler D. The Ethics of Pediatric Research, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Emanuel E, Crouch R, Grady C, Lie R, Miller F, Wendler D. The Oxford Textbook of Research Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Journal Articles

Wendler D, Rid A. Genetic research on biospecimens poses minimal risk. Trends in Genetics 2015; 31:11-15.

Dal-Ré R, Ndebele P, Higgs E, Sewankambo N, Wendler D. Protections for clinical trials in low and middle income countries need strengthening not weakening. British Medical Journal 2014; 349:g4254.

Wendler D, Abdoler E, Wiener L, Grady C. Views of adolescents and parents on pediatric research without the potential for clinical benefit. Pediatrics 2012; 130:692-699.

Rulli T, Emanuel EJ, Wendler D. The moral duty to buy health insurance. JAMA 2012; 308:137-138.

Wendler D. A new justification for pediatric research without the potential for clinical benefit. American Journal of Bioethics 2012; 12:23-31.

Lantos J, Matlock AM, Wendler D. Clinician integrity and limits to patient autonomy. JAMA 2011; 305:495-499.

Wendler D. How to enroll participants in research ethically. JAMA 2011; 305:1587-1588.

Wendler D, Rid A. The effect on surrogates of making treatment decisions for others. Annals of Internal Medicine 2011; 154:336-346.

  • NIH Clinical Center Director's Award for Teaching/Training, 2009
  • Award for Excellence in Human Research Protection, 2007
  • NIDA Special Service Award, 2006
  • NIH Clinical Center Director's Award, 2005
  • NIH Mentoring Award, 2005
  • NIH Clinical Center Special Service Award, 2001
  • NIH Clinical Center Special Recognition Award, 1998
  • NIAID Clinical Service Award, 1997
  • NIH Excellence in Research Ethics, 1996
  • NIH Citation for Education in Ethics, 1995
  • NIH Citation for Clinical Ethics, 1994
  • WARF Dissertation Fellowship, 1991
  • Outstanding Teaching Award, 1990

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This page last updated on 01/03/2024

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