UTS Library

Research Week: The ethics committee is your friend!

by Ashley England @ UTS Library 

This morning we had a fantastic presentation by Susanna Gorman, Research Ethics Manager (Human) at UTS. We'll publish the vodcast soon, but there were a couple of interesting points (and links) she suggested that I thought I would share.

Presentation Slides: Research Ethics
Vodcast: Now available to download!

The ethics committee is your friend!

While on the surface it may appear to be inconvenient, the ethics committee is made up of people who are committed to research and are voluntarily there to help you. In particular they are happy to start a dialogue with you about your ethics application. If you give her enough time, Susanna will even read a draft of your application to give you advice about ethical issues. The role of the committee is to ensure that you have attempted to minimise harm to your participants and that they have given informed consent. Susanna gave us some great examples of why this is so important.

Harmful Research

The reason behind ethics committees becomes apparent when you look at the history of Research - particularly medical research - and its treatment of people. There are many examples, including the Tuskegee Syphilis Study where African-American men in America with Syphilis were studied for 40 years to see the effects of untreated Syphilis, and were not informed about a cure when it was discovered.

Another interesting story is presented in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. A book about the first line of immortal cells (HeLa cells) which were harvested without consent from a woman with cervical cancer. While these cells were incredibly important for medical science, the patient and her family were unaware that the cells were harvested and lived in poverty while people and corporations made millions of dollars based on their existence. These cells were taken before ethics committees existed, and the author Rebecca Skoots explains the emergence of medical ethics and ethics committees to protect patients.

Important research often involves risk, and Susanna says that it is not the role of ethics committees to stop this research from happening. It's to make sure that every possible way to minimise harm to participants has been applied, and that they have given informed consent.

 If you want to learn more about ethics in research check out the following resources: