ACN - 101321555 Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

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Research Ethics MonthlyISSN 2206-2483

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Professional ethics0

 

As a follow up on Strategies for resolving ethically ambiguous scenarios last month below is a reprint of a discussion piece by AHRECS senior consultant Colin Thomson

In the first column in this series, the circumstances in which the ethics of health professionals emerge were identified as being a member of a profession and the context of health care. This third column examines the subject of professional ethics in more depth, focussing on matters that are generic to any health profession.

What is a profession?
Although there is no agreed definition, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and the Australian Council of Professions have developed the following useful definition of this concept:

A disciplined group of individuals who adhere to high ethical standards and uphold themselves to, and are accepted by, the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised, organised body of learning derived from education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to exercise this knowledge and these skills in the interest of others.

Inherent in this definition is the concept that the responsibility for the health and welfare and safety of the community shall take precedence over other considerations (i).

This identifies the elements that distinguish the ethical character of the professional-patient/client relationship from other relationships. These are the special knowledge and skill of professionals and the exercise of these in the interest of others.

Special Knowledge and Skill
Because professionals have special knowledge and skill, their relationships with patients and clients have been assumed to be unequal: the professional has knowledge that the patient does not. In non-professional relationships, such an inequality can place the uninformed at risk of being influenced, persuaded or exploited. In such relationships, no clear ethical obligations apply to such use of a superior position, and although society recognises the risks of being “conned”, it does not impose ethical obligations. When there is sufficient harm, common law principles that protect against fraud or statutory rules about fair trading can apply. By contrast, professionals are required to use their superior knowledge and skill in accordance with ethical obligations.

In the interest of others
The key ethical obligation of professionals is to use their knowledge and skill in the interests of, or in the health sphere, for the benefit of others, namely their patients or clients. Where professionals use the superior position that their superior knowledge and skill gives them, for their own benefit, they are exposed to professional sanctions. Using a professional relationship for sexual gratification or financial gain unrelated to expert services are gross examples of such conduct and can lead to loss of professional credentials.

From beneficence to respect
The emergence of medicine as a distinct body of knowledge and skill was closely followed by early expressions of the ethics of health professionals, notably by Thomas Percival. Although the obligation to use that knowledge and skill for the benefit of patients was recognised, the benefits of medicine were not then well established. As these benefits increased, this ethical obligation increasingly emphasised the patient’s benefit, an expression of the ethical principle of beneficence or to act for the benefit of others. When this becomes the dominant motivation in a relationship it can become paternalism, as expressed in the aphorism “doctor knows best”.

In the last four decades, as the result of a complex interaction of social factors, the prominence of beneficence has gradually been replaced by the ethical principle respect for autonomy. Although this can be described as a reaction to the undue emphasis on beneficence that became paternalism, the causes are more complex. Nonetheless, respecting a patient’s capacity and entitlement to make decisions about their healthcare has become central to professional ethics in health care.

Respect and beneficence: professional “distance”
The rise of respect for autonomy can present health professionals with another tension: that between respect for a patient’s views and the compassionate desire to achieve a patient’s maximum welfare. In non-professional personal relations, personal attachment and love freely allows such a desire to be expressed. By contrast, expressing compassion can be difficult for professionals because of the detachment and structure required by their relationships with patients. We are free to say we love our friends and family and that love explains our devotion, but professionals are not similarly free and need to express their commitment and compassion through an ethical structure that can feel impersonal.

(i) http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtm/itemId/277772 (accessed 10 December 2009

Republished with permission of the Australian Hospital & Healthcare Bulletin, http://www.hospitalhealth.com.au/subscribe

Contributor
Prof Colin Thomson is one of the Senior Consultants at AHRECS. You can view his biography here and contact him at colin.thomson@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Thomson C. (2017, 14 July) Professional ethics Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/professional-ethics

Professional Development across the Term of an HREC Committee Member0

 

AHRECS has considerable experience working with universities, hospitals, research institutions, government and non-government organisations to care for and build the capacity of its HREC Committee members across the entire term of their appointment. We start with the needs of our clients and offer support from recruitment all the way through to running an exit interview.

Many HRECs have quite simple manual-based inductions; we help HRECs to create something more welcoming and interactive that takes members from first contact to the point where they can contribute effectively to a committee. There is a significant difference between delivering a single ‘training session’ and creating a suite of professional development activities over two to three years, that covers committee members’ terms, and that might include dedicated annual PD and Strategy sessions and incorporate ongoing PD into each HREC meeting.

We can:

  • help recruit expert external members to meet the needs of specific HRECs
  • create interactive and multi-media induction and orientation materials
  • introduce members to the broader literature on research ethics
  • create material and run professional development sessions tailored to the specialist roles of particular HRECs
  • evaluate the performance of the HREC and provide feedback to the HREC and its host institution
  • offer exit interviews to HREC members stepping down from their role, and then….
  • help recruit replacement members to HRECs

We have provided elements of such services in Australia, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam for new and established, small and large institutions and consortia of research organisations.

Contributor
Prof. Mark Israel, AHRECS senior consultant
AHRECS profile page
mark.israel@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Israel M. (2017, 22 June) Professional Development across the Term of an HREC Committee Member. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/services/professional-development-across-term-hrec-committee-member

Strategies for resolving ethically ambiguous scenarios2

 

During the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014, I traveled to numerous universities across the United States and England to conduct in-depth interviews with physicists as part of the Ethics among Scientists in International Context Study, a project led by my colleague Elaine Howard Ecklund at Rice University(1). The study sought to find out how physicists approach ethical issues related to research integrity in their day-to-day work.

My colleagues and I began our interviews with a relatively straightforward question: “What does it mean to you to be a responsible scientist in your role as a researcher?” For many scientists, responsibility in research is a relatively black and white question: don’t falsify, don’t fabricate, and don’t plagiarize. And if one looks to the literature, scholarship and policy also tend to focus on these black and white instances of misbehavior because they are unambiguous and deserving of stern sanctions.

As our research unfolded, Ecklund and I began to question whether a black and white view of misconduct is overly simplistic. From a sociological perspective, whether scientists reach consensus about the meaning of unethical conduct in science is debatable because the same behavior in a given circumstance may be open to different ethical interpretations based on the statuses of the stakeholders involved and the intended and actual outcomes of the behavior. Our research ultimately demonstrated that the line separating legitimate and illegitimate behavior in science tends to be gray, rather than black and white—a concept we refer to as ethical ambiguity.

For the purpose of illustration, consider a scenario in which a scientist receives funding for one project and then uses a portion of that money to support a graduate student on a study unrelated to the grant. Many scientists would view this practice as a black and white instance of unethical conduct. But some scientists we interviewed view this an ethically gray scenario, indicating that the use of funds for reasons other than specified in a grant is justifiable if it means supporting the careers of their students or keeping their lab afloat. In these and other circumstances, scientists cope with ambiguity through decisions that emphasize being good over the “right” way of doing things.

What strategies help resolve these and other ethically ambiguous scenarios?

Frameworks for ethical decision-making offer some, but in my view limited, help. Kantian deontological theories assert that one should follow a priori moral imperatives related to duty or obligation. A deontologist would argue, for example, that a scientist has an obligation to acknowledge the origins of her work. And policies regarding plagiarism have a law-like quality. But how far back in the literature should one cite prior work? Deontology does not help us much in this example. Another framework, consequentialism, would suggest that in an ethically ambiguous scenario, a scientist should select the action that has the best outcomes for the most people. But like other individuals, scientists are limited in their ability to weigh the outcomes of their actions (particularly as it relates to the long-term implications of scientific research).

One ethical decision-making framework, virtue ethics, does offer some help in resolving ambiguity. Virtue ethics recognizes that ethical decision-making requires consideration of circumstances, situational factors, and one’s motivations and reasons for choosing an action, not just the action itself. It poses the question, “what is the ethically good action a practically wise person would take in this circumstance?” For individual scientists, this may require consulting with senior and trusted colleagues to think through such circumstances is always a valuable practice.

A pre-emptive strategy for helping scientists resolve ethically ambiguous scenarios is to create cultures in which ambiguity can be recognized and discussed. For their part, the physicists we spoke with do not view ethics training as an effective way to create such a culture. As one physicist we spoke with explained, “It’s the easy thing to say, oh make a course on it. Taking a physics course doesn’t make me a good physicist. Taking a safety course doesn’t make me safe. Taking an ethics course doesn’t make me ethical.”

There may be merit to this physicist’s point. Nevertheless, junior scientists must learn—likely through the watching, talking, and teaching that accompanies research within a lab—that the ethical questions that scientists encounter are more likely to involve ambiguous scenarios where the appropriate action is unclear than scenarios related to fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. __

Contributor
David R. Johnson, a sociologist, is an assistant professor of higher education the University of Nevada, Reno, in the United States. His first book, A Fractured Profession: Commercialism and Conflict in Academic Science, is published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
davidrjohnson@unr.edu

This post may be cited as:
Johnson D. (2017, 21 June) Strategies for resolving ethically ambiguous scenarios Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/strategies-resolving-ethically-ambiguous-scenarios

(1) (National Science Foundation grant # 1237737, Elaine Howard Ecklund PI, Kirstin RW Matthews and Steven Lewis, Co-PIs)

iDARE: [innovation.design.arts.research.ethics]0

 

I dare you?

CREW Activity (iDARE conference September 2016)
Image: Caitlyn Parry

iDARE involves a team of designers and visual and performing artists and theorists from across Australia who have asked the question: How do we prepare artists for real world practice where there are no ethics committees to guide them and where and they are responsible for developing their own ethical framework in their work? In late 2015, this team won OLT funding for a University of Melbourne led project Developing new approaches to ethics and research integrity training through challenges posed by Creative Practice Research [ID15-4776].

A little context: Higher degree research (HDR) in creative practice (including creative and performing arts, and design) is a relatively new research field in the academy. The creative practice PhD has only existed since the 1990s when creative arts training became part of a unified higher education system as a result of the Dawkins reforms. As researchers, creative arts research practitioners enrolled in the creative practice PhDs have become subject to the university’s research ethics processes and procedures if their work involves human and animal subjects, while in “real world” practice this is not the case (Bolt et al, 2010: 6). The iDARE team are concerned with the question of developing “ethical know-how”: how ethical practices are enacted in creative arts research and beyond its disciplinary boundaries. Our aim is to support research and reposition “ethics” as being at the forefront and centre of innovative creative research practice rather than a problem to be avoided.

As part of the project, we held a national iDARE conference in September 2016, where around 100 creative practitioners, candidates, academics and ethics administrators and managers descended on Melbourne to discuss and debate the intersections of creative practice research and ethical “know-how”.

Over the two days of the conference:

CREW Activity round table (IDARE conference September 2016)
Image: Kate Robertson

The response to the conference was so enthusiastic that we put out a call for papers and have had over fifteen essays that address issues such as developing ethical know how, relationality and ethics, institutional ethics and creative practice research, ethics in practice and etho-aesthetics. Watch this space for the publication!When aesthetics meets ethics in artistic research and art based research

Ethics is at the forefront and centre of innovative creative research practice but how do we equip our graduate students with the ethical knowhow to make ethical decisions in their practices as creative arts practitioners? How do we shift perceptions and practice around ethics, beyond institutional ethics and risk management? How can we encourage institutions to take on the notion of “a situated ethics” that will help prepare our graduates to become ethical and innovative practitioners in the “real world”?

Over the last 18 months the research team (http://idare.vca.unimelb.edu.au/about-idare/about-the-project/researchers-and-partner-institutions/) has been working on this through the conference, a series of workshops, interviews and surveys and the development of the website iDARE (http://idare.vca.unimelb.edu.au/). Over the life of the project, we will publish on the iDARE website some of the deliverables for the project. These deliverables include:

  • a mapping of current university practices through audit and case studies
  • professional development for candidates, supervisors and ethics administrators is being developed and trialled through workshops with evaluation.
    • University of Melbourne (February 2017) as a part of VCA_MCM Staff planning day
    • RMIT (March 2017)
    • Edith Cowan University (April 2017)
    • Federation University Australia (April 2017)
    • London workshop (June 2017) Bartlett School (UCL) and Slade School of Fine Art (UCL)
    • UNSW (September, 2017)
    • University of Wollongong (September, 2017)
  • a pedagogical toolkit (in progress) http://idare.vca.unimelb.edu.au/
  • University of Melbourne ethics library guide for visual arts The University of Melbourne Lib Guide is a Library resource that can be customised to your resources by any university library using the SpringShare platform. We are keen for this to be shared across the academy and so ask you to share with your librarian. http://unimelb.libguides.com/c.php?g=402830&p=3063140
  • establishing a community of practice through engagement in the conference, workshops and the CREW http://www.aelab.org/the-crew The Creative Research Ethics Workshop (CREW) is an ethics-in-action collaboration involving creative practice researchers from multiple universities. Through a call for Expressions of Interest the group formed to explore relationships between ethics and creative practice research. Starting in August 2016 with a two-day intensive workshop, the group continued and expanded through a month of weekly gatherings inside the Occupied exhibition at RMIT’s Design Hub, leading to a series of contributions to the iDARE conference, including an exhibition, workshop/performative events and a conference bag/kit. The CREW is still in progress and working towards some more exciting ethics-in-action collaboration activities.

We would love to hear about your experiences in ethics and advising creative practices researchers, if you would like to contribute we invite you to fill in our ethics administrator/manager survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ethics_admin_survey

The final report will be published on the iDARE website after lodging and the funding body’s approval and publishing. We expect this report to be published by mid 2018.

Activity prompt and response (IDARE conference September 2016)
Image: Caitlyn Parry

Support for this project has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.  The views in this project do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

CREW Activity (IDARE conference September 2016)
Image: Caitlyn Parry

Contributor
Megan McPherson
Project Manager | Developing new approaches to ethics and research integrity training through challenges posed by creative practice research
Professor Barbara Bolt | Associate Dean of Research
Bios – http://idare.vca.unimelb.edu.au/about-idare/about-the-project/researchers-and-partner-institutions/
Enquiries – mcpherson.m@unimelb.edu.au

This post may be cited as:
McPherson M and Bolt B . (2017, 22 May) iDARE: [innovation.design.arts.research.ethics]. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/idare-innovation-design-arts-research-ethics

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