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Research ethics Jan Deckers School of Medical Sciences Education Development

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1 Research ethics Jan Deckers School of Medical Sciences Education Development

2 Objectives To reflect on what (research) ethics is. To develop your skills as an ethical researcher. To prepare yourself to apply for ethical approval from research ethics committees.

3 What is ethics? Jamieson, 1990, p. 479: ‘In my view moral theorising is something that real people do in everyday life. It is not just the domain of professors, expounding in their lecture halls. Moral theorising can be found on the highways and byways, practised by everyone from bartenders to politicians... the result of this theorising hardly ever leads to the creation of a full-blown moral theory. Generally we are pushed into theorising by pragmatic considerations … we are usually pushed out of it by conversational closure – one of us gets our way, or we agree to disagree …’ Jamieson, 1990, p. 477: ethics is also about arguing why some moral theories have ‘coercive power’ A definition: ethics is about evaluating/justifying particular actions (Reference: D. Jamieson, Method and moral theory, in P. Singer (ed.). A Companion to Ethics, pp )

4 What is bioethics? the study of how human actions that affect biological organisms can or can’t be justified

5 Why do we need ethics? Many (or all?) people feel the need to justify their behaviour – to explain why their behaviour is (un)acceptable = subjective aspect –These explanations often relate actions to principles. –A theory is an account of which principles should be followed. Many (or all?) things deserve moral consideration = objective aspect So: Ethics as something that is both chosen and unchosen …

6 Objective dimension: What sorts of things should we value? Key questions –Which things are proper objects of ‘moral consideration’? –How much ‘relative moral significance’ should we give to different things? Key distinction –Intrinsic value: value for oneself –Instrumental/use value: value for others

7 Different value theories Strong anthropocentrism (speciesism) Weak anthropocentrism Animal-centred approaches: Pathocentrism (‘animal welfarism’) and animal rights ethics Biocentrism Ecocentrism

8 Two components: ethics and meta- ethics Ethics –a theory about the values/principles that should guide our actions Meta-ethics –a theory of the status of values/principles

9 Three meta-ethical positions Moral absolutism –I know that polluting (in this situation) is wrong

10 Three meta-ethical positions Moral absolutism –I know that polluting (in this situation) is wrong Moral relativism –Polluting (in this situation) is neither right nor wrong

11 Three meta-ethical positions Moral absolutism –I know that polluting (in this situation) is wrong Moral relativism –Polluting (in this situation) is neither right nor wrong Pyrrhonian moral scepticism –I believe/think that polluting (in this situation) is wrong

12 Suspending judgment and acting resolutely A Pyrrhonian moral sceptic will suspend judgment about the moral values adopted by others. Tolerance in principle ≠ tolerance in practice –A lack of certainty regarding the universalisability of one’s own values need not go hand in hand with a failure to act resolutely.

13 Pyrrhonian moral scepticism A school of thinking named after Pyrrho –a Greek philosopher who lived from c. 360 to c. 270 BC

14 Two dimensions to (research) ethics a/ Law and professional guidelines b/ Reflection

15 How does it work? a/ Establish knowledge of the relevant legal and professional guidelines b/ Exercise your ability to reflect How?

16 The tools of the trade Principle of non-contradiction Analogies and thought experiments

17 Principle of non-contradiction/consistency Example: A researcher who carries out research on patients with advanced dementia says the following: “I believe that researchers who want to carry out research on patients should only proceed if patients give their voluntary, informed consent to taking part in the research.”

18 The use of analogies Example: –When a research project is likely to kill me, research should not proceed. ↓ –When a research project is likely to kill others, research should not proceed. What is at work here is the principle of universalisability

19 The use of analogies Example: –When a research project is likely to kill human research subjects, research should not proceed. ↓ –When a research project is likely to kill nonhuman research subjects, research should not proceed.

20 The use of thought experiments A thought experiment is an analogy between a real case and an imaginary case whereby the latter is claimed to shed light on how to handle the former –E.g. Peter Singer (bioethicist at Princeton University) uses the following thought experiment: a child who has fallen into a shallow pond. It cannot swim and is about to drown. You stand by the pond. Rescuing the child is easy. Should you do it? How about children who are ‘drowning’ in distant places?

21 Why use analogies and thought experiments? The need to exercise one’s moral imagination –Have all the options been considered? –What are the benefits and disadvantages of the different options?

22 Some common ethical theories Consequentialism Deontology Principlism

23 Consequentialism Focus on consequences Example: Utilitarianism: consequences are measured in terms of whether or not they produce happiness

24 Deontology Focus on rules and motives

25 Principlism The ‘four principles’ approach: 1.Autonomy (self-determination) 2.Beneficence (well-being) 3.Non-maleficence (no harm) 4.Justice (1&4 are deontological?; 2&3 are consequentialist?) = a very popular approach in bioethics

26 Example: the use of financial incentives in research Is it acceptable to provide financial incentives in the recruitment of research participants?

27 Applying the four principles 1. Does it respect the autonomy of research participants? –Could the fact that an incentive is being provided undermine their autonomy? 2. Does it promote beneficence? –It may be done to promote the well-being of future patients, but it might undermine the well-being of participants (e.g. their health may be jeopardised).

28 3. Is it non-maleficent? –Could paying someone for a service ever be harmful to them? e.g.: blood donation tattoo adverts (M. Sandel, What money can’t buy. The moral limits of markets. Allen Lane, 2012.) 4. Is it just? Is it legal? Other considersations, e.g.: –Would I like to be treated like that? (The “how would you feel....” test, or “don’t do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you” )

29 Case 1 James Strong is a researcher who has drafted an information sheet that he would like to use to recruit research participants. He includes the following: –‘This research will not expose you to any risks as previous research has not found any evidence that the D drug is harmful. This research merely repeats what has already been shown by other studies, so you can trust what we are going to do. This research has already been funded and it has also been granted ethical approval from Newcastle University’s Research Ethics Committee.’

30 Case 2 Claire is working on a research project aimed at making tomato plants more resistant to frost. She hopes that isolating a gene from a flounder fish which can resist very cold temperatures and inserting this gene into tomato plants will make these plants resistant to frost.

31 Case 3 David does not support animal experimentation. Newcastle University are building a new facility to develop its research on animals. David wants to stop the University from building this facility, and speak up for the plight of animals. David decides to organise a protest in Newcastle with some like-minded people. They take to the streets and shout ‘stop the animal lab’. Afterwards, they go to the pub for a bar meal. David orders a pint of lager and a lamb pie with chips.

32 Conclusions Ethics is about the attempt to justify particular actions. In bioethics, the focus is on biological organisms. Logic and the making of valid analogies are the tools of the trade. Various formal theories exist on what ethics should be about, including consequentialism, deontology, and the 4 principles approach. Research ethics focuses on ethical issues in research: many institutions have ‘research ethics committees’ and demand approval from them before research projects can commence.


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