Research involving humans participant in any field is not a new phenomena but as old as it may be, doing research with human beings has carved initially to a large extent in academic and commercial activities at present. Research with humans and the long history of it even for the purpose of science of a certain group of humans taking advantage of another group of humans has made it compulsory and necessary to create intricate regulations and procedures for the protection of human participation in research. Shielding the wellbeing and rights of those who volunteer to partake in research is a primary principle of ethical research.
Undoubtedly, scientific investigation has enhanced the quality of life and it is one of the foundations of our society’s social progress in both materialistic and intellectual terms. For many individuals, scientific findings have improved the affliction caused by disease outbreak or other disabilities. Having said this, it is not right to follow and practise human testing and experimentation for more scientific exposure at the expense of human right or so to say human dignity and welfare.
In the words of philosopher Hans Jonas, “progress is an optional goal, not an unconditional commitment, and…Its tempo… compulsive as it may become, has nothing sacred about it” (Jonas 1969, 245).
In the context of the stated quote, though there are elaborate guidelines and procedures such as consent form and confidentiality, ethical issues arise when human being are involved till today mainly due to existence of unfairness, injustice and disparities in the world. Because of this even though guidelines in all the research aspects be in academic or biomedical, there is always the problem of different perception of universal ethics by different stakeholders. There are also most of the times, or it is even a fact that there are no certainties in ethics.
As a human individually, it is with basic common sense that a human will definitely know what another human will go through in case of human experiments. Having said this, society is constructed in such a way that for the sake of science and for the sake of discovering something so called unknown or new that might be beneficial to the society, researches especially in medical and biomedical are done unethically. Disparity of countries into developed and not developed showcases ethical issues with human participation in experimental researches
Evidence based medicine is a product of experiment research involving animals and of humans. Medical researchers collect data and present the effects of drugs and medicine on human beings from consumption of these drugs by human beings. A recent talk in TED talk by one of the psychotherapists tells the scary case of how drugs become evidently proved to be safe and effective for humans by only publishing positive results in popular journals and magazine while the negative results of the same drugs are not. What happens with hiding these findings is that in many cases, assumption as well as is negative results of a particular drug might outweigh the positive result of the same drug. But since only the positive result would be published, the drug will be termed as effective and save for us humans; while in reality it will not be. The worst case scenarios are when practitioners would be prescribing these drugs to their patients basing on the trusted board of evidence based medicine.
Another most recent example is the case of June 2015 Kolkata skeleton case. The case involved findings of one female corpse and dead. A man and his son were found living in the house where this corpse and dead dogs were found. As the media dug deeper, it was revealed that the corpse was the man’s daughter and her dogs. Bringing in the psychiatrists into the case, the man and his son were under scrutiny. With the bizarre case, the family was negatively perceived by the impact of the society, the police even released the private diary of the son through media and the psychiatrist even shared classified information of the son’s personal issues and of the family to the media. In the end, it was found that the daughter had died out of starvation and depression due to her dogs’ death.
How then, should people be studied? Should they participate in researches with the existence of various ethical issues even with the formulation of ethical guidelines and procedures? Like the existence of ethics in its uncertainties, these questions also do not have black and white responses, what a researcher can do is evaluate himself or herself first as a human being who would treat others and respect others virtue as he would do for himself. Ethics involve a set of questions that we ask of ourselves as much as of others. Guidelines or laws need not necessarily be in agreement with ethics all the time. So concerning research with human beings and ethical issues, it also depends on the context and the situation and the orientation of the research done.
Jonas, H. (1969). “Philosophical Reflections on Experimenting with Human Subjects.” Daedalus 98:219–247.