Researchers at the University of Washington are conducting studies on patients who aren’t well enough to give their consent – and federal guidelines are allowing it, the Seattle Times reported.

The patients are Kings County, Washington residents who may be unconscious, severely injured or suffering cardiac arrest, according to the newspaper, and the researchers are scientists searching for treatments to help these patients in extreme situations. Federal guidelines say doctors can sidestep the ethics rules that call for informed consent.

The UW studies are a part of a five-year, $50 million undertaking known as "Resuscitation Outcomes," which hopes to study nearly 21,000 people in the U.S. and Canada in order to improve trauma and cardiac arrest care.

"If you don’t do these studies, care will never improve," said Dr. Eileen Bulger, a trauma surgeon at Harborview Medical Center. Bulger is also leading one such study.

Bulger and her fellow researchers insist the experiments and treatments are safe, perhaps safer than standard emergency procedures.

However, some medical experts are not comfortable with the idea of patients not knowing they are medical guinea pigs and fear these studies could end up killing someone.

"We’re not a nation of research subjects," said George Annas, a bioethicist at Boston University. "It’s simple: You shouldn’t do research on people without their consent. It’s not rocket science."

Click here to read more on this story from the Seattle Times.