The cluster randomized trial (CRT) is used increasingly in knowledge translation research, quality improvement research, community based intervention studies, public health research, and research in developing countries. However, cluster trials raise difficult ethical issues that challenge researchers, research ethics committees, regulators, and sponsors as they seek to fulfill responsibly their respective roles. Our project will provide a systematic analysis of the ethics of cluster trials. Here we have outlined a series of six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation:
1. Who is a research subject?
2. From whom, how, and when must informed consent be obtained?
3. Does clinical equipoise apply to CRTs?
4. How do we determine if the benefits outweigh the risks of CRTs?
5. How ought vulnerable groups be protected in CRTs?
6. Who are gatekeepers and what are their responsibilities?
Subsequent papers in this series will address each of these areas, clarifying the ethical issues at stake and, where possible, arguing for a preferred solution. Our hope is that these papers will serve as the basis for the creation of international ethical guidelines for the design and conduct of cluster randomized trials.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the second of the questions posed, namely, from whom, when, and how must informed consent be obtained in CRTs in health research? The ethical principle of respect for persons implies that researchers are generally obligated to obtain the informed consent of research subjects. Aspects of CRT design, including cluster randomization, cluster level interventions, and cluster size, present challenges to obtaining informed consent. Here we address five questions related to consent and CRTs: How can a study proceed if informed consent is not possible? Is consent to randomization always required? What information must be disclosed to potential subjects if their cluster has already been randomized? Is passive consent a valid substitute for informed consent? Do health professionals have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in CRTs designed to improve professional practice?
We set out a framework based on the moral foundations of informed consent and international regulatory provisions to address each of these questions. First, when informed consent is not possible, a study may proceed if a research ethics committee is satisfied that conditions for a waiver of consent are satisfied. Second, informed consent to randomization may not be required if it is not possible to approach subjects at the time of randomization. Third, when potential subjects are approached after cluster randomization, they must be provided with a detailed description of the interventions in the trial arm to which their cluster has been randomized; detailed information on interventions in other trial arms need not be provided. Fourth, while passive consent may serve a variety of practical ends, it is not a substitute for valid informed consent. Fifth, while health professionals may have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in research, this does not diminish the necessity of informed consent to study participation.
In recent years, various authors have proposed that the concept of equipoise be abandoned since it conflates the practice of clinical care with clinical research. At the same time, the equipoise opponents acknowledge the necessity of clinical research if there are unresolved uncertainties about the effects of proposed healthcare interventions. Since equipoise represents just one measure of uncertainty, proposals to abandon equipoise while maintaining a requirement for addressing uncertainties are contradictory and ultimately not valid. As acknowledgment and articulation of uncertainties represent key scientific and moral requirements for human experimentation, the concept of equipoise remains the most useful framework to link the theory of human experimentation with the theory of rational choice. In this paper, I show how uncertainty (equipoise) is at the intersection between epistemology, decision-making and ethics of clinical research. In particular, I show how our formulation of responses to uncertainties of hoped-for benefits and unknown harms of testing is a function of the way humans cognitively process information. This approach is based on the view that considerations of ethics and rationality cannot be separated. I analyze the response to uncertainties as it relates to the dual-processing theory, which postulates that rational approach to (clinical research) decision-making depends both on analytical, deliberative processes embodied in scientific method (system II) and “good” human intuition (system I). Ultimately, our choices can only become wiser if we understand a close and intertwined relationship between irreducible uncertainty, inevitable errors, and unavoidable injustice.
Clinical Equipoise; Informed Consent; Clinical Research; Research Ethics
The conduct of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) is deemed ethical only if we are in state of “equipoise” as to which treatment would be most beneficial for the patients. Individual equipoise applies to an individual clinician or a member of ethical, institutional review board (IRB), whilst collective equipoise refers to the profession as a whole. It is argued that physicians are not bound by the equipoise but their actions are directed by the confines of the expert opinion. Experts can agree or disagree in various proportions on the merit of a given treatment. Hence, the collective equipoise will be often incomplete. In turn, the opinions of content expert in the field of the proposed trial influence the IRB members’ decision regarding trial approval.
We conducted a survey of IRB members at University of South Florida and the IRB members attending the bioethics conference organized in Clearwater, Florida, USA. The survey was made available as hard copy (paper based) and included six hypothetical scenarios outlining clinical trials targeted at measuring the collective equipoise. We defined the collective equipoise as the situation when survey participants were equally split (50:50) in their decision regarding whether a proposed clinical trial would be ethical to conduct. The opinion of 100 experts in the field expressed as proportion of experts favoring treatment A vs. B in each of the five scenarios was made available to the participants.
The response rate of our survey was 33% (71/218). Fifty percent of the IRB members would approve an RCT addressing the efficacy of two drugs for the management of headache even if 80% of experts favor one treatment over another (median: 80%; third quartile: 80%). Similarly, half of participating IRB members would approve the study when the median distribution of equipoise among experts was 70% (70 in favor of treatment A vs. 30 in favor of treatment B) for treatment of leukemia, 60% for treatment of geriatric patients and 70% for treatment of newborns. Half of IRB members would approve the study when the median distribution of equipoise among experts was 70% for treatment for leukemia in dogs and 85% for leukemia in rats (and 25% of IRB members would approve such a study even if 100% of experts favors one treatment over another). None of the demographic features of respondents affected collective equipoise.
This is the first study assessing collective equipoise among ethical committee/IRB members. Our study findings show that IRB members perceived that conduct of a trial enrolling humans is unethical when the equipoise level is beyond 80% (80:20 distribution of uncertainty). IRB members require a higher level of equipoise when it comes to testing a new drug in humans than in animals. A relatively high level of equipoise is needed for IRB members to be comfortable to approve trials involving life-threatening situations, children and elderly patients.
randomized controlled trial; ethics; Ethical committees.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the CRT is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the sixth of the questions posed, namely, what is the role and authority of gatekeepers in CRTs in health research? ‘Gatekeepers’ are individuals or bodies that represent the interests of cluster members, clusters, or organizations. The need for gatekeepers arose in response to the difficulties in obtaining informed consent because of cluster randomization, cluster-level interventions, and cluster size. In this paper, we call for a more restrictive understanding of the role and authority of gatekeepers.
Previous papers in this series have provided solutions to the challenges posed by informed consent in CRTs without the need to invoke gatekeepers. We considered that consent to randomization is not required when cluster members are approached for consent at the earliest opportunity and before any study interventions or data-collection procedures have started. Further, when cluster-level interventions or cluster size means that obtaining informed consent is not possible, a waiver of consent may be appropriate. In this paper, we suggest that the role of gatekeepers in protecting individual interests in CRTs should be limited. Generally, gatekeepers do not have the authority to provide proxy consent for cluster members. When a municipality or other community has a legitimate political authority that is empowered to make such decisions, cluster permission may be appropriate; however, gatekeepers may usefully protect cluster interests in other ways. Cluster consultation may ensure that the CRT addresses local health needs, and is conducted in accord with local values and customs. Gatekeepers may also play an important role in protecting the interests of organizations, such as hospitals, nursing homes, general practices, and schools. In these settings, permission to access the organization relies on resource implications and adherence to institutional policies.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the CRT is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the first of the questions posed, namely, who is the research subject in a CRT in health research? The identification of human research subjects is logically prior to the application of protections as set out in research ethics and regulation. Aspects of CRT design, including the fact that in a single study the units of randomization, experimentation, and observation may differ, complicate the identification of human research subjects. But the proper identification of human research subjects is important if they are to be protected from harm and exploitation, and if research ethics committees are to review CRTs efficiently.
We examine the research ethics literature and international regulations to identify the core features of human research subjects, and then unify these features under a single, comprehensive definition of human research subject. We define a human research subject as any person whose interests may be compromised as a result of interventions in a research study. Individuals are only human research subjects in CRTs if: (1) they are directly intervened upon by investigators; (2) they interact with investigators; (3) they are deliberately intervened upon via a manipulation of their environment that may compromise their interests; or (4) their identifiable private information is used to generate data. Individuals who are indirectly affected by CRT study interventions, including patients of healthcare providers participating in knowledge translation CRTs, are not human research subjects unless at least one of these conditions is met.
Physicians encounter complex and sensitive ethical challenges in the medical care of pregnant women with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. This paper identifies those ethical challenges and provides concrete clinical guidance for how they should be addressed in obstetric care. The paper begins with a brief historical review, to highlight and to call into question the civil rights model of the ethics of HIV infection that has dominated the literature, clinical practice, and public policy. The authors propose an alternative ethical framework. This framework begins by underscoring the public health obligations of both physicians and pregnant women with HIV infection. The framework is based on a clinical ethics that appeals to both beneficence-based and
autonomy-based obligations of the physician to the pregnant woman and the beneficence-based
obligations of both the physician and the pregnant woman to the fetal patient. This framework is
then deployed in a clinical ethical analysis of termination of pregnancy and contraception, partner
notification, disclosure and confidentiality of her serostatus by the patient to the health care team,
disclosure and confidentiality of her serostatus to other health care professionals, prevention of
vertical transmission, and advance directives.
In recent years, there has been a particular emphasis placed on conducting randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compare the relative efficacy of psychosocial and pharmacological interventions. This article addresses relevant ethical considerations in the conduct of these treatment trials, with a focus on RCTs with children. Ethical concerns, including therapeutic misconception, treatment preference, therapeutic equipoise, structure of treatments, and balancing risks versus benefits, are introduced through a clinical scenario and discussed as they relate to psychotherapy versus medication RCTs. In each case, suggestions are made for researchers seeking to minimize the impact of these ethical concerns on research participants.
clinical trials; ethical dilemmas; psychosocial interventions; psychopharmacological interventions
Randomised clinical trials provide the most valid means of establishing the efficacy of clinical therapeutics. Ethical standards dictate that patients and clinicians should not consent to randomisation unless there is uncertainty about whether any of the treatment options is superior to the others ("equipoise"). However, true equipoise is rarely present; most randomised trials, therefore, present challenging ethical dilemmas. Minimising the tension between science and ethics is an obligation of investigators and clinicians. This article briefly reviews several techniques for addressing this issue and suggests that unbalanced randomisation, a technique rarely employed in current clinical trial practice, may be useful for enhancing the ethical design of human experimentation.
Medical research involving human subjects raises complex ethical, legal and social issues. Investigators sometimes find that their obligations with respect to a research project come into conflict with their obligations to individual patients. The ethical conduct of research rests on 3 guiding principles: respect for persons, beneficience, and justice. Respect for persons underlies the duty to obtain informed consent from study participants. Beneficence demands a favourable balance between the potential benefits and harms of participation. Justice requires that vulnerable people not be exploited and that eligible candidates who may benefit from participation not be excluded without good cause. Studies must be designed in a way that ensures the validity of findings and must address questions of sufficient importance to justify the risks of participation. In any clinical trial there must be genuine uncertainty as to which treatment arm offers the most benefit, and placebo controls should not be used if effective standard therapies exist. Researchers have a responsibility to inform themselves about the ethical, legal and policy standards that govern their activities. When difficulties arise, they should consult the existing literature and seek the advice of experts in research ethics.
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) pose ethical challenges for investigators and ethics committees. This study describes the views and experiences of CRT researchers with respect to: (1) ethical challenges in CRTs; (2) the ethics review process for CRTs; and (3) the need for comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Descriptive qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with a purposive sample of 20 experienced CRT researchers.
Informants expressed concern over the potential for bias that may result from requirements to obtain informed consent from research participants in CRTs. Informants suggested that the need for informed consent ought to be related to the type of intervention under study in a CRT. Informants rarely expressed concern regarding risks to research participants in CRTs, other than risks to privacy. Important issues identified in the research ethics literature, including fair subject selection and other justice issues, were not mentioned by informants. The ethics review process has had positive and negative impacts on CRT conduct. Informants stated that variability in ethics review between jurisdictions, and increasingly stringent ethics review in recent years, have hampered their ability to conduct CRTs. Many informants said that comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs would be helpful to researchers and research ethics committees.
Informants identified key ethical challenges in the conduct of CRTs, specifically relating to identifying subjects, seeking informed consent, and the use of gatekeepers. These data have since been used to identify topics for in-depth ethical analysis and to guide the development of comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Cluster randomized trials; Research ethics; Informed consent; Clinical trials; Bioethics; Knowledge translation; Quality improvement; Implementation research
Improved quality of care is a policy objective of health care systems around the world. Implementation research is the scientific study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of clinical research findings into routine clinical practice, and hence to reduce inappropriate care. It includes the study of influences on healthcare professionals' behaviour and methods to enable them to use research findings more effectively. Cluster randomized trials represent the optimal design for evaluating the effectiveness of implementation strategies. Various codes of medical ethics, such as the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki inform medical research, but their relevance to cluster randomised trials in implementation research is unclear. This paper discusses the applicability of various ethical codes to obtaining consent in cluster trials in implementation research.
The appropriate application of biomedical codes to implementation research is not obvious. Discussion of the nature and practice of informed consent in implementation research cluster trials must consider the levels at which consent can be sought, and for what purpose it can be sought. The level at which an intervention is delivered can render the idea of patient level consent meaningless. Careful consideration of the ownership of information, and rights of access to and exploitation of data is required. For health care professionals and organizations, there is a balance between clinical freedom and responsibility to participate in research.
While ethical justification for clinical trials relies heavily on individual consent, for implementation research aspects of distributive justice, economics, and political philosophy underlie the debate. Societies may need to trade off decisions on the choice between individualized consent and valid implementation research. We suggest that social sciences codes could usefully inform the consideration of implementation research by members of Research Ethics Committees.
Cluster randomized trials are an increasingly important methodological tool in health research. In cluster randomized trials, intact social units or groups of individuals, such as medical practices, schools, or entire communities – rather than individual themselves – are randomly allocated to intervention or control conditions, while outcomes are then observed on individual cluster members. The substantial methodological differences between cluster randomized trials and conventional randomized trials pose serious challenges to the current conceptual framework for research ethics. The ethical implications of randomizing groups rather than individuals are not addressed in current research ethics guidelines, nor have they even been thoroughly explored. The main objectives of this research are to: (1) identify ethical issues arising in cluster trials and learn how they are currently being addressed; (2) understand how ethics reviews of cluster trials are carried out in different countries (Canada, the USA and the UK); (3) elicit the views and experiences of trial participants and cluster representatives; (4) develop well-grounded guidelines for the ethical conduct and review of cluster trials by conducting an extensive ethical analysis and organizing a consensus process; (5) disseminate the guidelines to researchers, research ethics boards (REBs), journal editors, and research funders.
We will use a mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative) approach incorporating both empirical and conceptual work. Empirical work will include a systematic review of a random sample of published trials, a survey and in-depth interviews with trialists, a survey of REBs, and in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with trial participants and gatekeepers. The empirical work will inform the concurrent ethical analysis which will lead to a guidance document laying out principles, policy options, and rationale for proposed guidelines. An Expert Panel of researchers, ethicists, health lawyers, consumer advocates, REB members, and representatives from low-middle income countries will be appointed. A consensus conference will be convened and draft guidelines will be generated by the Panel; an e-consultation phase will then be launched to invite comments from the broader community of researchers, policy-makers, and the public before a final set of guidelines is generated by the Panel and widely disseminated by the research team.
This paper examines the UK's response to a recent European Clinical Trials Directive, namely the Department of Health, Central Office for Research Ethics Committee guidance, Governance Arrangements for NHS Research Ethics Committees. The revisions have been long awaited by researchers and research ethics committee members alike. They substantially reform the ethical review system in the UK. We examine the new arrangements and argue that though they go a long way toward addressing the uncertainty surrounding ethics committee function, the system favours the facilitation of research over the protection of the dignity and welfare of research participants.
In this commentary on Fries and Krishnan's argument that 'design bias' undermines the status of equipoise as the ethical justification for randomised controlled trials, it is argued that their argument is analogous to Bayesian arguments for the use of informative priors in trial design, but that this does not undermine the importance of equipoise. In particular, mismatches between the outcomes of interest to industrial sponsors of research and outcomes of interest to patients and clinicians ensure that in many cases industry-sponsored trials can fail to reflect the reasonable equipoise of working clinicians.
design bias; ethical principles; expected outcomes; randomised controlled trials
The concept of 'equipoise', or the 'uncertainty principle', has been represented as a central ethical principle, and holds that a subject may be enrolled in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) only if there is true uncertainty about which of the trial arms is most likely to benefit the patient. We sought to estimate the frequency with which equipoise conditions were met in industry-sponsored RCTs in rheumatology, to explore the reasons for any deviations from equipoise, to examine the concept of 'design bias', and to consider alternative ethical formulations that might improve subject safety and autonomy. We studied abstracts accepted for the 2001 American College of Rheumatology meetings that reported RCTs, acknowledged industry sponsorship, and had clinical end-points (n = 45), and examined the proportion of studies that favored the registration or marketing of the sponsor's drug. In every trial (45/45) results were favorable to the sponsor, indicating that results could have been predicted in advance solely by knowledge of sponsorship (P < 0.0001). Equipoise clearly was being systematically violated. Publication bias appeared to be an incomplete explanation for this dramatic result; this bias occurs after a study is completed. Rather, we hypothesize that 'design bias', in which extensive preliminary data are used to design studies with a high likelihood of being positive, is the major cause of the asymmetric results. Design 'bias' occurs before the trial is begun and is inconsistent with the equipoise principle. However, design bias increases scientific efficiency, decreases drug development costs, and limits the number of subjects required, probably reducing aggregate risks to participants. Conceptual and ethical issues were found with the equipoise principle, which encourages performance of negative studies; ignores patient values, patient autonomy, and social benefits; is applied at a conceptually inappropriate decision point (after randomization rather than before); and is in conflict with the Belmont, Nuremberg, and other sets of ethical principles, as well as with US Food and Drug Administration procedures. We propose a principle of 'positive expected outcomes', which informs the assessment that a trial is ethical, together with a restatement of the priority of personal autonomy.
design bias; ethical principles; equipoise; expected outcomes; randomized controlled trials
Ethical guidelines for conducting clinical trials have historically been based on a perceived therapeutic obligation to treat and benefit the patient‐participants. The origins of this ethical framework can be traced to the Hippocratic oath originally written to guide doctors in caring for their patients, where the overriding moral obligation of doctors is strictly to do what is best for the individual patient, irrespective of other social considerations. In contrast, although medicine focuses on the health of the person, public health is concerned with the health of the entire population, and thus, public health ethics is founded on the societal responsibility to protect and promote the health of the population as a whole. From a public health perspective, research ethics should be guided by giving due consideration to the risks and benefits to society in addition to the individual research participants. On the basis of a duty to protect the population as a whole, a fiduciary obligation to realise the social value of the research and the moral responsibility to distribute the benefits and burdens of research fairly across society, how a public health perspective on research ethics results in fundamental re‐assessments of the proper course of action for two salient topical issues in research ethics is shown: stopping trials early for reasons of efficacy and the conduct of research on less expensive yet less effective interventions.
There is a commonly held belief that randomized, placebo-controlled trials in pediatric critical care should incorporate “rescue” therapy (open-label administration of active drug) when a child’s condition is deteriorating. The ethical, conceptual and analytic challenges related to “rescue” therapy in randomized trials can be misrepresented.
The ethical basis of “rescue” therapy, the equipoise concept, and intention-to-treat analysis are examined in the setting of a hypothetical randomized trial comparing corticosteroids versus placebo in pediatric septic shock.
The perceived need for “rescue” therapy may be partly motivated by the moral imperative to save a child’s life. However, allowing “rescue” therapy in a trial is misconceived and inconsistent with equipoise regarding the efficacy of the study drug. If “rescue” therapy is permitted, intention-to-treat analysis can only compare immediate versus delayed use of the study drug. When “rescue” therapy is beneficial, the observed treatment effect is substantially diminished from true effect of the study drug, leading to increased sample size and thereby placing more children at risk (18 “excess” placebo-arm deaths occur in our hypothetical example). Analysis of a trial incorporating “rescue” therapy cannot definitively assess overall efficacy of the agent, or distinguish beneficial or harmful treatment effects related to timing of drug use.
While a “rescue” therapy component in a randomized trial may be perceived as ethically desirable, inconsistency of “rescue” therapy with full equipoise may itself raise significant ethical concerns. Increased sample sizes expose more children to the risks of study participation, including death. Researchers should be aware that clinical trials designed with “rescue” therapy cannot definitively determine the beneficial or harmful effects of a treatment per se, and can only assess the effects of delayed versus immediate provision of the treatment.
clinical trials, randomized; critical care; corticosterone; equipoise; ethics; placebos; shock; septic; rescue therapy
This study examines the existing norms regarding immunisation within the communities and the ethical notions that govern the actions of different health professionals and their collective synergistic or conflicting effects on the governance of the programme.
We used descriptive and analytical qualitative methods as it suited the research question.
The data were collected from areas under 16 primary health centres in Kerala and Tamil Nadu identified through a three-step sampling process.
This involved in-depth interviews with stakeholders including providers, beneficiaries and other stakeholders, focus group discussions with mothers of under-five children and participant and non-participant observations of vaccination-related activities.
Unlike most other ethical analyses that look at the ethics of vaccination policies, the interactions of normative principles and notions are analysed in this article. Moral obligation of parents towards their children, beneficence of healthcare providers and the utilitarian aspirations of the state are the key normative principles involved. Our analysis points to the interplay of both synergy and conflict in ethical notions and moral values in the context of immunisation services. Paternalistic interventions like special immunisation campaigns against polio and Japanese encephalitis are a case in point: they generate conflict at the normative level and create mistrust.
Analysis of vaccination policies and programmes needs to go beyond factors that assess monetary benefits or herd immunity. Understanding the interactions of normative notions that shape the social organisation of the providers and the users of vaccination is important in creating a sustainable environment for the programme.
Ethics (see Medical Ethics); Primary Care; Social Medicine
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are becoming increasingly common in environmental health research. Like all studies involving human subjects, environmental health RCTs raise many different ethical issues, ranging from obtaining informed consent, to minimizing risks, to protecting privacy and confidentiality. One of the most important issues raised by these studies is whether it is ethical to withhold effective environmental health interventions from research subjects in order to satisfy scientific objectives. Although environmental health investigators usually do not have professional obligations to provide medical care to research subjects, they have ethical obligations to avoid exploiting them. Withholding interventions from research subjects can be ethical, provided that it does not lead to exploitation of individuals or groups. To avoid exploiting individuals or groups, investigators should ensure that research subjects and study populations receive a fair share of the benefits of research.
Unlike therapeutics, novel diagnostic tests for infectious diseases are licensed on the basis of accuracy rather than health impact. Scaling up these tests with the intent to improve population health raises distinctive ethical concerns of equipoise, equity, and informed consent.
In the last decade, many new rapid diagnostic tests for infectious diseases have been developed. In general, these new tests are developed with the intent to optimize feasibility and population health, not accuracy alone. However, unlike drugs or vaccines, diagnostic tests are evaluated and licensed on the basis of accuracy, not health impact (eg, reduced morbidity or mortality). Thus, these tests are sometimes recommended or scaled up for purposes of improving population health without randomized evidence that they do so. We highlight the importance of randomized trials to evaluate the health impact of novel diagnostics and note that such trials raise distinctive ethical challenges of equipoise, equity, and informed consent. We discuss the distinction between equipoise for patient-important outcomes versus diagnostic accuracy, the equity implications of evaluating health impact of diagnostics under routine conditions, and the importance of offering reasonable choices for informed consent in diagnostic trials.
Interest in global health is growing among students across many disciplines and fields of study. In response, an increasing number of academic programmes integrate and promote opportunities for international research, service or clinical placements. These activities raise a range of ethical issues and are associated with important training needs for those who participate. In this paper, we focus on research fieldwork conducted in lower income nations by students from more affluent countries and the ethics preparation they would benefit from receiving prior to embarking on these projects. Global health research is closely associated with questions of justice and equity that extend beyond concerns of procedural ethics. Research takes place in and is shaped by matrices of political, social and cultural contexts and concerns. These realities warrant analysis and discussion during research ethics training. Training activities present an opportunity to encourage students to link global health research to questions of global justice, account for issues of justice in planning their own research, and prepare for ‘ethicsin-practice’ issues when conducting research in contexts of widespread inequality. Sustained engagement with questions of justice and equity during research ethics training will help support students for involvement in global health research.
research ethics; global health; justice; equity; students; training
Clinical equipoise is widely accepted as the basis of ethics in clinical research and requires investigators to be uncertain of the relative therapeutic merits of trial comparators. When clinical equipoise is in question, innovative trial designs are needed to reduce ethical tension while satisfying regulators’ requirements. We report a novel response-conditional crossover study design used in a Phase 3, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of intravenous 10% caprylate-chromatography purified immunoglobulin for chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy. During the initial 24-week period, patients crossed over to the alternative treatment at the first sign of deterioration or if they failed to improve or were unable to maintain improvement at any time after 6 weeks. This trial design addressed concerns about lack of equipoise raised by physicians interested in trial participation and proved acceptable to regulatory authorities. The trial design may be applicable to other studies where clinical equipoise is in question.
Clinical equipoise; Crossover trial; Trial design; Response-conditional; Intravenous immunoglobulin
This discussion paper is drawn from a qualitative research project comparing the effect of special and ordinary schools on the lives of children, young people and their families. Special schools are recommended by health professionals who seldom know how ineffective these schools are. We question the beneficence and justice of health professionals' advice on education for children with disabilities and other difficulties. Cooperation with local education authorities (LEAs) plays a considerable part in the work of community paediatricians, clinical medical officers, therapists and other health professionals encountering children with "special needs". The "needs" range from physical disability and sensory impairment to learning difficulties and emotional or behavioural difficulties. This cooperation involves routine administrative problems, but it raises broad ethical issues too, particularly in respect of current tendencies in state schooling towards the integration or inclusion of these children in mainstream schools and classes.
General moral (ethical) principles play a prominent role in certain methods of moral reasoning and ethical decision-making in bioethics and public health. Examples include the principles of respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice. Some accounts of ethics in public health have pointed to additional principles related to social and environmental concerns, such as the precautionary principle and principles of solidarity or social cohesion. This article provides an overview of principle-based methods of moral reasoning as they apply to public health ethics including a summary of advantages and disadvantages of methods of moral reasoning that rely upon general principles of moral reasoning. Drawing upon the literature on public health ethics, examples are provided of additional principles, obligations, and rules that may be useful for analyzing complex ethical issues in public health. A framework is outlined that takes into consideration the interplay of ethical principles and rules at individual, community, national, and global levels. Concepts such as the precautionary principle and solidarity are shown to be useful to public health ethics to the extent that they can be shown to provide worthwhile guidance and information above and beyond principles of beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice, and the clusters of rules and maxims that are linked to these moral principles. Future directions likely to be productive include further work on areas of public health ethics such as public trust, community empowerment, the rights of individuals who are targeted (or not targeted) by public health interventions, individual and community resilience and wellbeing, and further clarification of principles, obligations, and rules in public health disciplines such as environmental science, prevention and control of chronic and infectious diseases, genomics, and global health.