Chapter 2: Ethics in Research

2.4 Guiding Ethical Principles

In addition to IRBs, a variety of institutions have developed guiding ethical principles for research undertaken with human participants. While the ethical principles set out below come from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2005), the principles have been used by many researchers from a variety of disciplines around the world. In fact, these principles represent a common set of ethical standards, values and aspirations of the global research community.

Ethical principles for research undertaken with human participants

Respect for human dignity: This is the foremost principle of modern research ethics. This principle aspires to protect people’s bodily and psychological integrity, including cultural integrity.

Respect for free and informed consent: Individuals are presumed to have the right to make their own free & informed decisions. In this sense, researchers have an obligation to insure that their research participants have decided freely to participate in the research, and that they have been fully informed of the research and give their informed consent to participate.

Respect for vulnerable people: Researchers must maintain high ethical obligations toward vulnerable people, such as those with diminished competence and/or decision-making capacity, e.g.: children, institutionalized people, or others who are vulnerable and entitled. These obligations extend to human dignity, caring, solidarity and fairness, and special protection against abuse, exploitation, or discrimination. The researcher must develop a special set of procedures to protect vulnerable people.

Respect for privacy and confidentiality: Standards of privacy and confidentiality are considered fundamental to human dignity. Such standards protect access to, and control and dissemination of personal information. Researchers must value the rights of privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity for their participants.

Respect for justice and inclusiveness: Justice is associated with fairness and equity. Justice is also concerned with the fair distribution of benefits and burdens of research. On the one hand, no segment of a population should be unfairly burdened by harms of research. On the other hand, no segment of the population should be neglected or discriminated against when it comes to the benefits from the outcomes of research.

Balance harms and benefits: Modern research requires that the harms of research should not outweigh the anticipated benefits.

Minimizing harm: Researchers have a duty to avoid, prevent, or minimize harm to others. Research participants must not be subjected to unnecessary risk of harm, and their participation must be essential to achieving scientific and societally important objectives that cannot be achieved without their participation.

Maximizing benefit: Researchers have a duty to maximize net benefits for the research participants, individuals and society.  In  most  research,  this  means that  the  results  benefit  society  and  the  advancement  of knowledge.