In the first part of this blog series, I discussed the ethical considerations involved in selecting a target population. In this post, I will begin to discuss the Belmont Report. The Belmont Report serves as a guide for ethical qualitative and quantitative research. There are three important principles outlined in the Belmont Report that any researcher conducting research with human participants must follow. Here, I will discuss the first principle of the Belmont Report: respect for persons.
Respect for persons refers to treating individuals as capable of making their own decisions and recognizing that individuals who are not capable of making their own decisions require additional protections. No matter where participants fall on the spectrum between these two extremes, researchers need to make sure that participants understand the risks and benefits associated with their participation; they need to be informed about the research study, the inherent risks of their participation, and the benefits they may experience as a result of their participation. Participants are informed about these aspects, in addition to may other important areas, in the informed consent form.
There are some individuals who are fully able to make decisions regarding their participation in the research study, but on the other hand, there are some individuals who are not able to make decisions regarding their participation. As an example, adults typically are able to make their own decisions, whereas children are not able to make their own decisions. However, this does not mean that all adults are capable of making decisions about research participation. There are some adults who are considered vulnerable (e.g., adults who may be mentally underdeveloped or emotionally disturbed) and may not be fully capable of making decisions for themselves. This is why it was important to look at the potential ethical considerations relevant to your population. It is extremely important to understand what protections need to be put in place to ensure that participants understand their involvement in the study. As a researcher, it is your responsibility to establish that potential participants understand the study well enough to make the decision to participate or not participate. Additionally, in order to maintain respect for persons, a researcher must establish that participants are not being coerced or unduly influenced to participate by either threats or excessive compensation. Concerns of coercion require even greater consideration when the study involves vulnerable populations (e.g., economically disadvantaged individuals), so measures must be taken to ensure that the voluntary nature of the study is preserved.
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