Discussion: Ethical Dimensions of Research Studies
In the best-selling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot, 2010), the author highlights the true story of an African-American woman who died in 1951 from cervical cancer. What makes her story unique is that prior to her death, cells from her tumor were removed and successfully grown in a petri dish. This was the first time scientists were able to successfully replicate cells outside the body, and it is estimated that billions of Lacks’ cells have been used in medical research. However, Henrietta Lacks was never asked for permission to take a sample and her family was never made aware of the widespread use of her cells. Although the culturing of her cells has been pivotal for advancing research, strong ethical concerns later arose about using these cells without patient or family approval.
This week’s readings describe historical examples of unethical research, such as a study of syphilis among African-American men in which treatment was withheld and a study in which live cancer cells were injected into elderly patients. Today, stricter controls that seek to protect study participants are placed on researchers, but breaches still occur. Careful attention must be given toward preventing unethical behavior. In this Discussion, you explore ethical considerations and issues in research.
• Select a current health-related case involving research ethics. (If none come to mind, browse the Internet to familiarize yourself with recent cases.)
• As you review the case that you have selected, reflect on the ethical principles discussed in “What Are the Major Ethical Issues in Conducting Research?” article found in this week’s Learning Resources. Which principles were breached in the case you have identified?
Post a description of the case that you selected and the ethical issues involved. Analyze the ethical principles that were breached by the researchers or organizations in your selected case as well as the possible cause of the breach(es). Suggest how the research might have been conducted differently to avoid or minimize the ethical problems. Discuss how research can be done on sensitive issues while still protecting the rights of the research subjects.