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Research Ethics

A brief historical Overview

 Since the 1970s, members of all professions- including professions as diverse as social work,
psychology, psychiatrist, nursing, medicine, accounting, business, law enforcement, and
engineering- have paid closer attention to ethical issues in general.
 (Reamer,1999)- New technology, especially in the health care and the computer fields, has
brought with it a number of complex and compelling ethical issues.
 Formal allegation of ethical misconduct and professional negligence involving ethical issues
have motivated many professional to pay closer attention to ethical standards.
 Significant Historical Event: Trial of the Nazi Doctors at Nuremberg, in
1945(Levine,1991) a legal proceedings broadcast the fact that profound harm can result
from unethical research (Ashcroft,1998). The hauntingly inhumane experiments conducted
by the Nazi Doctors for the benefit of the Third Reich military demonstrated the
unspeakable pain and suffering that unprincipled research result can cause.
 These pioneering documents have shaped contemporary guidelines that require that
individuals’ participation in research be both voluntary and informed and that participants
be protected from risk to the greatest extent possible (Levine,1988).
2 Other Key Historical Events
1. Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a 40 year project, 1932 by the U.S Public Health Service- to
investigate the natural history of untreated syphilis.
2. Willowbrook Study- researchers investigated the natural history of another disease- the
infectious hepatitis. The researchers goal was to study the history of the disease when left
untreated and later to evaluate the effects of gamma globulin as a treatment option.
 Surgeon General William Stewart- he issued a U. S Public Health Service directive on
human experiment. This directive announced that the Public Health Service would not fund
research studies unless the institution receiving the federal funds documented the procedures
in place to ensure research participants’ informed consent, the use of appropriate and ethical
research procedures, an adequate review of the risks and medical benefits of the research
project, and the procedures designed to protect research participants’ rights.
 World Medical Association(1960s) promulgated the Declaration of Helsinki, which
elaborate on the informed consent standards set forth in the Nuremberg Code in
 Initial Formulation of Research Question- Social workers must explore overarching
questions concerning the researching project's broad goals.
 Sample Selection
-Social workers also should be minded of the research participants( or samples) they include in
their work. Given the professions enduring commitment to issues of cultural, ethnic, and social
diverse, social workers must ensure that their samples sufficiently represent, when
methodologically appropriate and sound, diverse groups and clientele.
 Informed Consent
-According to this concept, research participants must be informed about the purposes, methods,
and risks associated with the research study, and they must voluntarily consent to participate in
it.These are reflected in NASW’s (1996) Code of Ethics
-Social workers engaged in evaluation of research should obtain voluntary and written informed
consent from the participants, when appropriate, without any implied or actual deprivation or
penalty for refusal to participate; and with undue inducement to participate, and due regard for
participants’ well being, privacy, and dignity. Informed consent should include information
about the nature, extent, and duration of the participation requested and disclosure of the risks
and benefits of participation in research.(Standard 5.01[e])
Several Key Elements of Informed Consent
 Not Using Coercion
-Social work should not use coercion to convince people to participate in their research and
evaluation activities.
 Ascertaining Competence-Consent is valid only when participants truly understands the
nature of the research and evaluation activity, possible benefits, and associated risks. Social
workers must ensure that participants’ understanding of these issues is not compromised by
their mental status, literacy, or language difficulties.
 Waiving Informed Consent
- Some research and evaluation projects and activities do not require formal informed consent. -
 Obtaining Participants’ Consent to Specific Procedures or Actions
When formal informed consent is warranted, social workers must explain clearly to potential
participants the purpose of the research activity, its possible benefits and costs, and alternatives
or other options that the participants might want to consider.
 Having the Right to Refuse or Withdraw Consent
-Social workers should ensure that potential participants understand thier right to refuse or
withdraw consent.
-Informed consent- is a process that should include the systematic and deliberate disclosure of
information and an opportunity for individual to discuss and ask questions about the research
study.(Reamer, 1987)
 Institutional Review
-Institutional Review Board(IRBs) often known as Human Subjects Protection
Committees(1970s) as a result of the National attention to ethical issues in research in general.
An IRBs may request additional information and details or may request certain changes in a
study’s research design before approving a proposal.
Ethical Issues in Research Design and Methodology
 There are seven main issues that social workers must be concerned about during the actual
research project or activity:
 Ethical Aspects of Research Design- Ethical issues often arise when social workers design
projects that explore cause- effect relationships variables.
 The Use of Deception -As a group, social workers generally find anathema any form of
deception in professional practice. Fortunately, the vast majority of researc and evaluation
activities, whether needs assessments, program evaluations, or clinical evaluations, do not
call for any significant deception.
 Confidentiality and Privacy- Social workers have a keen understanding of the importance
of confidentiality and privacy.
-Data collected by the social workers often concern very sensitive issues such as clients’
troubling feelings, illegal behaviors, and controversial attitudes or program employees’ concerns
about personnel issues or administrative problems. Social workers needed to be scrupulous in
their efforts to protect such data.
-Social workers also must be prepared to assist individuals who become upset during data
collection or at any other point in their involvement in research activities.
Conflict of Interest- Social workers involved in evaluation and research need to be careful to
avoid conflicts of interest, especially when the research participants are current or former clients.
Reporting Results- Social workers must be careful to protect the confidentiality of final results
and to report results accurately.
 Disclosing Results to Research Participants- as a matter of principle,social workers
ordinarily share evaluation and research results with their data sources,whether
clients,colleagues,or the general public.
 Professional Paternalism- social workers have an understandable instinct to protect people
from harmful information.
 Acknowledging Credit- social workers responsible for the dissemination of results must
be careful to acknowledge the contributions of those who provided meaningful assistance.
According to NASW's (1996) Code of Ethics: