The FDA ditches the Declaration of Helsinki
So what is the difference? Someone with a stronger stomach than my own could go through the Declaration of Helsinki and GCP point by point, and try to discern every little ethical difference. Or look at the Federal Register, and evaluate the myriad justifications made by the FDA in favor of the change. For those unable, unwilling or uninterested in going through this regulatory potpourri, let me cut to the chase: the GCP overall is less ethically demanding than the Declaration of Helsinki, and thus encourages the outsourcing of clinical trials in developing countries in a regulatory atmosphere more supportive of pharmaceutical interests than protective of research participants or communities. As some commentators have pointed out, the FDA (and the pharmaceutical companies with whom it often shares beds) was never enamoured of the section in the Declaration of Helsinki that stated that a new drug should be 'tested against the best current prophylactic, diagnostic and therapeutic method', since that would limit the possibility for placebo-controlled trials. That is why GCP is apparently more attractive to them: it does not have any such requirement. Not only that: the GCP does not (unlike the Declaration of Helsinki) contain anything about conflicts of interest, the need to publish results, or post-trial availability of the tested drug to study participants or communities. In the end, GCP is ethics-lite.
The Declaration of Helsinki has its own problems, not the least of which are problems of ambiguity in its language and limited enforceability. But even its most uncharitable critic can see that the document has an ethical backbone. What impact the FDA's decision will have on clinical trials around the world remains to be seen, but the decision would seem to encourage pharmaceutical companies to cut ethical corners when working abroad.