The saying; much has to be sacrificed before a victory can be won, sums up the historical events and unethical transgressions of researchers who put research subjects through challenging ordeals before the stage was set for the establishment of regulations protecting human participants. The unethical research that occurred in the Tuskegee Experiment and Laud Humphrey’s Tearoom Trade, gave rise to a series of discussions resulting in codified guidelines which helped to form Federal regulations and publications. The commission, known as the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, published its report in 1979. This code, known as the Belmont Report, became federal law and mandated the establishment of institutional review boards (IRB) in any organization sponsoring human participant research. The purpose of an IRB is to review research involving human participants and data collected in order to prevent abuses and ensure participant protection. An IRB assesses whether there are adequate provisions to protect the privacy and confidentiality of participants. An IRB also ensures that recruitment, screening, enrollment, and data collection procedures protect research participant’s privacy and confidentiality, as well as ensures plans are in place to manage, store and destroy the data as required.
Regardless of the type of research conducted, ethical considerations should be a common thread which runs throughout the research process. Any study with human participants entails some degree of risk for the participants, especially when working closely with study participants. Therefore, a researcher’s main concern ethically is to ensure that participants are not harmed by the research being conducted. Study participants can be harmed in a variety of ways including physical harm such as injury or fatigue, psychological harm such as stress or fear, and social or economic harm such as the loss of friends, wages, or even employment. As such, researchers must strive to minimize as many types of harm and discomfort to participants as possible when conducting research.
An example of an ethical dilemma would be if a researcher conducts research within one’s own workplace. This scenario has the potential to create a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest in research occurs whenever the researcher has competing interests, personal bias toward desired research results, personal bias toward participants of the research, or may benefit financially or in stature depending on the product or idea being researched and how it reflects on the status of the researcher’s employer. If unaddressed, conflicts of interest can lead to an increased risk of harm to research participants and will undermine the validity of the study’s findings.