Ethics and Research
The integrity of the researchers is one of the essential values of research. This includes the commitment of the researchers to the research questions. These questions are designed to contribute to the knowledge and protection of truth. It also includes a commitment to reliance on research methods appropriate to the discipline and honesty (Australian Government).
The Belmont Report provides the ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research (Department of Health, 1978). The authors of the Belmont Report have identified three basic ethical principles. These principles are general judgments, which constitute the basic justification for particular ethical prescriptions and evaluations of human actions.
Respect for Persons
The first ethical principle is “respect for persons”. This principle specifies that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents. It also provides that persons with diminished autonomy should be given due protection. The respect is intended to recognize the inherent right and dignity of the persons and to evolve the principle of commitment not to use an individual only as a means to an end. It has been established that it is within the reach of the researchers that such respect can be shown unconditionally without any inhibition or restriction. Respect for persons thus forms one of the basic ethical principles of research.
The principle of beneficence advocates meeting the obligations to maximize the possible benefits to the individuals. It also advocates minimizing the possible harms. However, it is to be noted that the obligation not to do any harm to the individuals is regarded as non-maleficence. The harm, in this case, need not necessarily be physical harm. The term ‘harm’ is meant to cover psychological and emotional distress, discomfort, and economic or social disadvantage.
Thus, harm extends to a wide range of psychological and other disturbances to the subjects of research. The researchers are expected to exercise beneficence while assessing the risk of potential harm and benefits to participants. The researchers have to follow the ethical principle of beneficence in being sensitive to the rights and interests of people involved in their research. It should also reflect on the social and cultural implications of the research being conducted by them.
The third ethical principle of justice focuses on finding the answer for the question of identifying the individuals entitled to receive the benefits of research and bear the burdens imposed by the research. In the initial periods of the twentieth century, the bearing of the burdens of serving as subjects of medical research was cast on public patients, while the benefits of the improvements brought in the medical care as a result of the research were enjoyed by the private patients.
This condition represented an unjust position, which needed to be reversed. In modern times the researchers are expected to recognize the chances of ending up doing unjust actions of subjecting a selected group of individuals to medical research because of convenience and without considering the frequency of the research or to whom the benefits of the research would flow. The manner in which the public funds are obtained for research and the ways in which such funds are being used would also raise some ethical questions which need to be addressed by the researchers.
There are other ethical considerations, which are highlighted by the Belmont Report. “These include the preservation of the integrity of scholarship and research, the integrity of the individual researcher or research team, the promotion of the integrity of institutions and organizations responsible for research, and the accountability of researchers both to the general community and to specific groups or collectivities who have a defined interest in the research”.
Australian Government. (n.d.). National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans Preamble. Web.
Department of Health. (1978). The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. Washington: The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, Department of Health, Education and Welfare Publication US Government Printing Office.