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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Summary of research for participants and the Health Research Authority ‘An ethnographic study of National Health Service Research Ethics Committees : mapping ethics review’ (Papers: Dr Julie Morton | 2017)0

Posted by Admin in on March 8, 2018

Background to the study
Ethical regulation in general and ethics review more specifically are perceived as challenging for researchers and have been subject to critique from both qualitative and quantitative research paradigms. Existing critique clusters around the following themes:

Bureaucracy and its impact on research.
Authors here suggest that there are unacceptable delays in receiving decisions on ethics in review or that the requirements of review are excessive, unachievable and constitute a barrier to research. (Dingwall, 2006; Hammersley, 2010; Stewart et al (2008).

Dominance of quantitative research paradigms.
There is perceived lack of understanding of qualitative research and quantitative ‘bias’ (Burrr and Reynolds (2010); Murphy and Dingwall, 2007; Hammersley, 2009, 2010). Alongside critics of the system, particularly in the social sciences, other commentators have identified the potential educative value of engaging with review systems (Wiles,2012; Guillemin and Gillam, 2004; Israel and Hay, 2006) despite acknowledging some of the (historic) limitations in relation to qualitative research paradigms.

Centrality of the informed consent requirement.
This has been problematised from a range of perspectives which view it as unachievable in some methodologies, as necessary but problematic, or as an overly bureaucratic requirement which makes it informed but not necessarily genuine (O’Neill, 2003). The shortcomings of procedural consent in medicine and biomedical contexts and which also relate to consent in research ethics have been highlighted by philosophers (O’Neill 2003; Kittay, 2007; Manson and O’Neil, 2007) while sociologists have commented on the potential privileging of consent over other ethical considerations and described informed consent as an ‘ethical panacea’ (Corrigan, 2003). Furthermore, the importance of context in consent (Greenhough, 2007) and the need for it to be seen as an ongoing process rather than a ‘on-off’ event (Corrigan, 2016) has also been highlighted.

Procedure and principles.
Concerns with the overly-procedural nature of review in general is criticism of the principlist approaches which inform the review process. Hammersley (2015) claims that judgements are derived in a ‘quasi- logical way from given principles’ (p445).

Gaps in existing research
The literature review evidenced the paucity of discussion about and inquiry into how reviewers in RECs are involved in the review process. Existing accounts of review and the role of consent have not explored how reviewers’ activities are carried out, where procedures and principles are enacted and where judgements about research take place. Exceptions are Hedgecoe (2008; 2009; 2012) in the United Kingdom and Laura Stark on Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) (2012 and 2013) in the United States.

Much is claimed about the barriers and limitations which the review of ethics presents to researchers, however, there is little evidence which starts from the standpoint of committee members and explores how the work of review is accomplished in the everyday contexts in which decisions are made. Sheehan (2013) has responded to criticisms of the functioning of RECs as over-generalised and therefore inaccurate. He argues that critique requires evidence and this is not always apparent in the arguments for changes in the current system of ethics review. This research provides detailed investigation into RECs to discover how their work is achieved.
The focus of the study was NHSRECs which are ‘flagged’ to review studies which involved participants who may lack capacity to consent. This meant that reviewers had undertaken additional training on the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Morton, JW 2017, Summary of research for participants and the Health Research Authority ‘An ethnographic study of National Health Service Research Ethics Committees : mapping ethics review’ Dr Julie Morton, April 2017 , Project Report, University of Salford. (Unpublished)
Institutional reprint (Open Access):

Ubuntu Ethics (Papers: Philip Ogochukwu Ujomudike | 2015)0

Posted by Admin in on March 4, 2018

This is an entry on ubuntu ethics. The idea is to develop an endogenous African conception of ubuntu as an ethical construct. We attempt to use ubuntu to countermand the current dominant social paradigm (DSP) of hatred, intolerance, abuse of human rights, dehumanization, exploitation, authoritarianism, poverty, and oppression that plague the human race at the national and international levels. This work proposes a conception of ubuntu as a value system built upon the application of some key moral and democratic values for liberation and transformation. Specifically, ubuntu ethics is defined as a set of values central among which are reciprocity, common good, peaceful relations, emphasis on human dignity, and the value of human life as well as consensus, tolerance, and mutual respect. These features are to operate at the national level. We also argue for a possibility utilizing ubuntu ethical correlates as materials for establishing stable and viable human relations within the international system or global order. Our aim is to conceptualize ubuntu as an ethical idea and praxis, as well as to situate it as an ethical ideal all with a view to making humans better and thus tackling in a systematic manner, our natural and man-made existential predicaments.

Ubuntu, Communalism, Community, Human person, Humanity, Dignity, Moral values 

Ujomudike P.O. (2015) Ubuntu Ethics. In: ten Have H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics. Springer.

The concept of ‘vulnerability’ in research ethics: an in-depth analysis of policies and guidelines (Dearbhail Bracken-Roche, et al | April 2017)0

Posted by Admin in on February 27, 2018


The concept of vulnerability has held a central place in research ethics guidance since its introduction in the United States Belmont Report in 1979. It signals mindfulness for researchers and research ethics boards to the possibility that some participants may be at higher risk of harm or wrong. Despite its important intended purpose and widespread use, there is considerable disagreement in the scholarly literature about the meaning and delineation of vulnerability, stemming from a perceived lack of guidance within research ethics standards. The aim of this study was to assess the concept of vulnerability as it is employed in major national and international research ethics policies and guidelines.

We conducted an in-depth analysis of 11 (five national and six international) research ethics policies and guidelines, exploring their discussions of the definition, application, normative justification and implications of vulnerability.

Few policies and guidelines explicitly defined vulnerability, instead relying on implicit assumptions and the delineation of vulnerable groups and sources of vulnerability. On the whole, we found considerable richness in the content on vulnerability across policies, but note that this relies heavily on the structure imposed on the data through our analysis.

Our results underscore a need for policymakers to revisit the guidance on vulnerability in research ethics, and we propose that a process of stakeholder engagement would well-support this effort.

Keywords: Research ethics, Vulnerable populations, Vulnerability, Research policy, Ethics policy, Research oversight

Bracken-Roche, D., Bell, E., Macdonald, M. E., & Racine, E. (2017). The concept of “vulnerability” in research ethics: an in-depth analysis of policies and guidelines. Health Research Policy and Systems15, 8.
Publisher (Open Access):


Tech’s Ethical ‘Dark Side’: Harvard, Stanford and Others Want to Address It – The New York Times (Natashas Singerfeb | February 2018)0

Posted by Admin in on February 22, 2018

PALO ALTO, Calif. — The medical profession has an ethic: First, do no harm.

Silicon Valley has an ethos: Build it first and ask for forgiveness later.

Now, in the wake of fake news and other troubles at tech companies, universities that helped produce some of Silicon Valley’s top technologists are hustling to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science.

This semester, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. The University of Texas at Austin just introduced a course titled “Ethical Foundations of Computer Science” — with the idea of eventually requiring it for all computer science majors.

Read the rest of this discussion piece