Participating in a research study is an opportunity for people to contribute to the advancement of healthcare practice or other measures. Researchers typically collect data from a population of people that share common characteristics that make them appropriate subjects for the area being studied. In order to assure that participants are adequately protected, a set of ethical principles should be adhered to by all research facilitators. “The Belmont Report articulates three primary ethical principles on which standards of ethical conduct in research are based: beneficence, respect for human dignity, and justice” (Beck & Polit, 2006).
The principle of beneficence serves to minimize harm to participants, maximize the benefits of the study, and protect the participant from any form of exploitation. “In research with humans, harm and discomfort can take many forms: they can be physical, emotional, social, or financial” (Beck & Polit, 2006). Facilitators of any research study must be conscious of this and use strategies to alleviate potential of such harm. Ethical researchers must be prepared to terminate their study if any evidence of distress on the participants is discovered.
Another duty that researchers face is to protect participants from exploitation. “Involvement in a study should not place participants at a disadvantage or expose them to situations that they have not been prepared” (Beck & Polit, 2006). In summary, participants must feel secure that the information they provide will not be used against them in any fashion.
The second ethical principle addressed by The Belmont Report is the respect for human dignity. Study participants have the right to self-determination, or the capability to control their own activities. This right encompasses the ability to ask questions, refuse to provide information, or even withdraw from a study without consequences. The entitlement of self-determination also includes the freedom from being coerced into participating in a study, such as an economically disadvantaged person being offered a large stipend to participate. This may be seen as placing this individual under undue pressure to participate in the study.
The principle of the respect for human dignity also includes the right to full disclosure. This allows a person to make informed, voluntary decisions regarding the study they are participating in. “Full disclosure means that the researcher has fully described the nature of the study, the person’s right to refuse participation, the researcher’s responsibilities, and the likely risks and benefits that would be incurred” (Beck & Polit, 2006).
The last ethical principle delivered in The Belmont Report pertains to justice. This principle ensures participants’ rights to fair treatment and the right to privacy. Justice promotes duties to neither neglect nor discriminate against individuals. “The principle of justice imposes particular obligations toward individuals who are unable to protect their own interests to ensure they are not exploited for the advancement of knowledge” (Beck & Polit, 2006). Researchers must also acknowledge the participants’ right to privacy. They must ensure that their research is minimally intrusive and the participants’ privacy is respected throughout the study. People that partake in a study should expect that any information they provide will be kept in strict confidence.
There are designated procedures in place to ensure participants’ satisfaction of a study upon completion. One such task is the risk/benefit assessment. “Such an assessment is designed to determine whether the benefits of participating in a study are in line with the costs, be they financial, physical, emotional, or social” (Beck & Polit, 2006). Researchers can also offer a debriefing session after data collection is complete. This allows participants to ask questions or air complaints pertaining to the study. Researchers can demonstrate their interest in study participants by offering to share findings with them once the data has been analyzed. Lastly, facilitators should refer participants to appropriate health or psychological services as deemed necessary.
Beck, C. and Polit, D. (2006.) Essentials of Nursing Research: Methods,
Appraisal, and Utilization. (6th ed.) Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins.