I Gave Myself Severe Diarrhea for Science. Don’t Tax Me for It.

Link: https://reason.com/2023/04/05/i-gave-myself-severe-diarrhea-for-science-dont-tax-me-for-it/


I drank the bespoke pathogenic cocktail as part of what’s known as a “human challenge study” run by the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. In a human challenge study, adult volunteers are exposed to a pathogen. The study I was involved in was intended to test an experimental vaccine. The process may sound somewhat medieval, but these studies are critical scientific tools that prioritize participant safety. From 1980 to 2021, over 15,000 volunteers have been exposed to one of dozens of diseases in such studies, and not one has died

Dysentery can be fatal. While Shigella is treatable with antibiotics, resistance is evolving at a worrying pace, and tens of thousands of children still succumb to it every year in the developing world. Those it does not kill are often left with stunted growth.


For my assistance in the development of a potentially lifesaving vaccine, I was paid $7,350. My motivations were altruistic to a degree: I wanted to pay my privilege forward. As I told Business Insider, however, I am not a complete saint and would not have done it for free.

As far as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is concerned, the compensation for my bout of dysentery has zero charitable component; it’s just regular old income, indistinguishable from, say, freelance writing or mowing lawns. If, God forbid, I am ever audited, I hope the IRS agent believes me when I say that’s just my diarrhea money.

I maintain, though, that I should not be taxed on that $7,350 at all: Treating clinical trial compensation as taxable income is just bad policy. 

Author(s): JAke Eberts

Publication Date: 5 April 2023

Publication Site: Reason