The paper thus dissects through the basic principles of ethical research including respect for participants, beneficence, and justice, with a view to explicating how the planned study will relate to these ethical requirements. The paper also discusses other ethical issues in research such as privacy and confidentiality and informed consent. These ethical issues are relevant to the design of the study and targeted human subjects in this study. Specifically, the paper considers the ethical implications of the study involving high school students who research ethics regulations may classify as vulnerable subjects in this study.
Basic Ethical Principles and their Relevance to the Study
The basic ethical principles in research include the principles of respect, beneficence, and justice. These principles would be relevant to the current study that would involve high school students and teachers as human subjects. The principle of respect is founded on the understanding that human subjects in the study should be respected and treated as autonomous subjects. Study participants with diminished autonomy should also be respected. The autonomous persons are capable of making autonomous decisions, which the researcher should respect by refraining from any actions during the research that might infringe on and obstruct such autonomous decisions. In this study, teachers and other adults who will be involved will be treated as autonomous subjects and their decisions during the research processes will be respected.
The unit of observation in this study will comprise children among other respondents since the study involves high school students. In most states, children are any person below the age of 18 years. Children fit well within Belmont’s category of human subjects with diminished autonomy. Such participants require the utmost protection, including exclusion from any activities that might cause harm to them. The protection of such subjects goes to another level beyond ensuring that they participate in the study with full assurance and awareness of any risks that might be involved. The involvement of children in this study raises a critical issue surrounding research involving children. Most of the ethical issues in studies involving children revolve around the procedure of recruitment and acquisition of informed consent, which is discussed under the procedure of receiving participants’ informed consent before the start of any research.
The principle of beneficence is founded on the need to safeguard the well-being of human subjects in research. It is thus the obligation of the researcher(s) to ensure that participants in the study are not harmed or prejudiced in any way. Under the principle of beneficence, the researcher should ensure that the study has maximum benefits with minimum possible harms on the study participants. The researcher should thus explain to the subjects, in much detail, how their participation in the study is going to be beneficial to them and the society at large while also identifying and discussing with the participants any foreseen or unforeseen risks of participating in the study.
The principle of justice ensures that all study participants benefit equally from the outcomes of any research. The principle of justice is pegged on the assumption and understanding if there are any benefits from the study, all the participants should benefit in a manner commensurate to the level of involvement and contribution. For example, it would not be fair to conduct a study with the physically impaired to inform designing of a program to respond to their needs only to use the findings to address the needs of the impaired in a different location other than where the study was conducted. Whereas the findings may be replicable in other areas, any beneficial interventions arising from the results of such a study should not disenfranchise the participants under the principle of justice.
Justice must also be understood within the context of limited conflicts of interest during the research. The researcher must disengage from any act of commission or omission that borders on conflict of personal and research interests. For, example, the researcher must not divert research funds for personal gain or achievement of personal objectives other than the agreed-upon objectives of the study. Institutional regulations governing research should also be adhered to in a way of regulation of the research protocols and reviews.
Other Ethical Concerns in Research
Informed and Voluntary Consent
Informed consent is a critical requirement in all studies involving human subjects. Such consent should be acquired voluntarily with respect and without coercion. Informed consent should be premised on the disclosure of adequate information to study participants. The researcher should disclose to the subjects all the research procedures, risks involved and benefits of the study. The researcher should also inform respondents of their liberty to withdraw from the research without fearing of any form of prejudice for such withdrawal. Such information should be as comprehensive to the subjects as possible. Informed consent should also be given voluntarily. Voluntary consent can be obtained by informing about the agreement between the researcher and the human subjects participating in the study.
The current study will be conducted in high schools. There are thus other pertinent issues surrounding procedures for getting subjects’ informed consent. Such issues arise because the study will involve children and employees, who may be teachers and other staff in the selected schools in this research. Ethical principles governing obtaining the informed consent from children require the researcher to begin with obtaining parental or guardian’s consent. Parental consent is followed with the consent from the school management before sharing the intended research. However, the consent process is only complete after the child is also given a chance to state his or her willingness to participate in the study. Such a procedure also requires the researcher to limit, as much as possible, any processes where employees are coerced or threatened to either participate or refrain from any studies. The study will thus adhere to these ethical guidelines with the understanding that the study targets two main categories of respondents who are all ethically considered to be vulnerable human subjects in research procedures and protocols.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Privacy and confidentiality are core ethical principles in research involving human subjects irrespective of age and status. Research with human subjects may involve the disclosure of personal information. In the process of obtaining informed consent, the participants must be given room to decide whether or not they are willing to relinquish control over personal information. However, once such control has been relinquished the researcher bears the responsibility of safeguarding such information and treating it with the utmost confidentiality. Confidentiality is thus the principle that puts on the researcher the responsibility of guarding and protecting research participants from unauthorized or inadvertent disclosure. The personal details of the participants should thus be kept confidential and used purely for the purpose of the research. Therefore, during the process of obtaining respondents’ informed consent, the researcher will disclose all the research procedures to the study participants. If, for example, the study might require taking photographs, the respondents must be given room to agree or disagree with the requirement. However, once such photographs are taken, the researcher is under obligation to protect such photos from unauthorized persons and to use them primarily for the purpose of the study.
Privacy entails information that is considered personal. The subjects must be given a chance to choose whether or not they are comfortable giving their personal information. For example, research that involves asking respondents private and personal questions may infringe participants’ rights to privacy and breach the principle of privacy in research. In this current study, the survey instruments should be designed or constructed in such a way that allows the respondents to abstain from questions that they are uncomfortable with or which they consider invasive of their privacy. Community and cultural issues relating to the principles of privacy and confidentiality should thus be taken into account while designing and constructing study tools. There are cultural contexts when certain questions are considered as a breach to the cultural practices and orientations.
The principle of privacy and confidentiality also relate to the communication process between the researcher and the human subjects. For example, if a study has obvious stigmatizing conditions or life experiences that subjects might not be comfortable discussing or letting others know about, their rights to privacy should be respected. In the current study of lack of participation of girls in sports activities, there may be sexual issues intertwined and nuanced with the reasons for refrain from sports by girls. The subjects, in this context, should be allowed to enjoy their right to privacy without infringements.
Research undertaken without consideration of the ethical principles may be fatal and can dangerously interfere with the safety, well-being, and rights of human subjects. Such infringement and failure to adhere to research ethics may render the study vulnerable to critique and dismissal on account of the requisite delicate balance between benefits and risks of research. Therefore, research must be guided by the principle of respect, beneficence, and justice. The other ethical considerations include confidentiality, informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality. However, the variance and relevance of these principles vary in studies involving vulnerable human subjects like children.