Medical tourism is international travel with the intention of receiving medical care. Medical tourists travel for many reasons, including cost savings, limited domestic access to specific treatments, and interest in accessing unproven interventions. Medical tourism poses new health and safety risks to patients, including dangers associated with travel following surgery, difficulty assessing the quality of care abroad, and complications in continuity of care. Online resources are important to the decision-making of potential medical tourists and the websites of medical tourism facilitation companies (companies that may or may not be affiliated with a clinic abroad and help patients plan their travel) are an important source of online information for these individuals. These websites fail to address the risks associated with medical tourism, which can undermine the informed decision-making of potential medical tourists. Less is known about patient testimonials on these websites, which can be a particularly powerful influence on decision-making.
A thematic content analysis was conducted of patient testimonials hosted on the YouTube channels of four medical tourism facilitation companies. Five videos per company were viewed. The content of these videos was analyzed and themes identified and counted for each video.
Ten main themes were identified. These themes were then grouped into three main categories: facilitator characteristics (e.g., mentions of the facilitator by name, reference to the price of the treatment or to cost savings); service characteristics (e.g., the quality and availability of the surgeon, the quality and friendliness of the support staff); and referrals (e.g., referrals to other potential medical tourists). These testimonials were found either not to mention risks associated with medical tourism or to claim that these risks can be effectively managed through the use of the facilitation company. The failure fully to address the risks of medical tourism can undermine the informed decision-making of potential medical tourists, particularly given the considerable influence on decision-making by patient testimonials.
Regulation of these global companies is difficult, making the development of testimonials highlighting the risks of medical tourism essential. Additional research is needed on the impact of patient testimonial videos on the decision-making of potential medical tourists.
Medical tourism; Informed decision-making; Patient testimonials
South Africa has made great progress in the development of HIV/AIDS testing, treatment and prevention campaigns. Yet, it is clear that prevention and treatment campaigns alone are not enough to bring this epidemic under control.
News that the “Berlin patient” and the “Mississippi baby” have both been “cured” of HIV brought hope to people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa that a cure for HIV/AIDS is within reach. Despite the recent setbacks announced in the “Mississippi Baby” case, protocols aimed at curing HIV/AIDS are being developed in South Africa. However with evidence to suggest that participants in clinical trials do not understand the basic concepts in the informed consent process, there is concern that future participants in HIV/AIDS cure research will lack comprehension of the basic elements of future clinical trials that aims to cure HIV/AIDS and confuse research with clinical care.
Research ethics committees have an important role to play in ensuring that participants understand the basic concepts discussed in the informed consent process, that they understand that research is not clinical care and they are unlikely to benefit from any early phase trials seeking to cure HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS; HIV/AIDS cure; Informed consent; Therapeutic misconception
Randomised clinical trials (RCTs) involve procedures such as randomisation, blinding, and placebo use, which are not part of standard medical care. Patients asked to participate in RCTs often experience difficulties in understanding the meaning of these and their justification.
We reviewed RCT protocols, statements of the principal investigator (PI), and participant-information materials, as submitted for opinion to a research ethics committee. We evaluated how the justification for the use of placebo was described in these documents and how the participants had been informed about randomisation, placebo use, and the possible risks of receiving placebo.
In total, 52 RCTs were identified. Eighteen of the study protocols (35%) provided some rationale for the use of placebo. In 15 (29%) of the statements, the PI had provided justification for its use. Possible risks related to placebo use were described in nine (17%) of the statements. An explanation as to why placebo was necessary featured in only 12 (23%) of the sets of participant-information materials, and only six (12%) of the documents discussed the possible risks associated with placebo.
The justification of placebo control was inadequately described in the RCT study protocols, by principal or national co-ordinating investigators, and in participant-information documents. Furthermore, possible health-related risks associated with the use of placebo were poorly explained in the participant-information documents. Ethics committes and study participants need to be better informed of the rationale for the use of placebo, along with the associated risks.
Clinical trials; Placebo; Randomisation; Ethics; Justification
For decades, the discussion on children’s competence to consent to medical issues has concentrated around normative concerns, with little progress in clinical practices. Decision-making competence is an important condition in the informed consent model. In pediatrics, clinicians need to strike a proper balance in order to both protect children’s interests when they are not fully able to do so themselves and to respect their autonomy when they are. Children’s competence to consent, however, is currently not assessed in a standardized way. Moreover, the correlation between competence to give informed consent and age in children has never been systematically investigated, nor do we know which factors exactly contribute to children’s competence.
This article aims at identifying these gaps in knowledge and suggests options for dealing with the obstacles in empirical research in order to advance policies and practices regarding children’s medical decision-making competence.
Understanding children’s competency is hampered by the law. Legislative regulations concerning competency are established on a strong presumption that persons older than a certain age are competent, whereas younger persons are not. Furthermore, a number of contextual factors are believed to be of influence on a child’s decision-making competence: the developmental stage of children, the influence of parents and peers, the quality of information provision, life experience, the type of medical decision, and so on. Ostensibly, these diverse and extensive barriers hinder any form of advancement in this conflicted area. Addressing these obstacles encourages the discussion on children’s competency, in which the most prominent question concerns the lack of a clear operationalization of children’s competence to consent. Empirical data are needed to substantiate the discussion.
The empirical approach offers an opportunity to give direction to the debate. Recommendations for future research include: studying a standardized assessment instrument covering all four relevant dimensions of competence (understanding, reasoning, appreciation, expressing a choice), including a study population of children covering the full age range of 7 to 18 years, improving information provision, and assessing relevant contextual data.
Mental competence; Informed consent; Minor; Decision-making; Clinical research; Treatment; Assessment
Submission of study protocols to research ethics committees (RECs) constitutes one of the earliest stages at which planned trials are documented in detail. Previous studies have investigated the amendments requested from researchers by RECs, but the type of issues raised during REC review have not been compared by sponsor type. The objective of this study was to identify recurring shortcomings in protocols of drug trials based on REC comments and to assess whether these were more common among industry-sponsored or non-industry trials.
Retrospective analysis of 226 protocols of drug trials approved in 2010–2011 by three RECs affiliated to academic medical centres in The Netherlands. For each protocol, information on sponsorship, number of participating centres, participating countries, study phase, registration status of the study drug, and type and number of subjects was retrieved. REC comments were extracted from decision letters sent to investigators after review and were classified using a predefined checklist that was based on legislation and guidelines on clinical drug research and previous literature.
Most protocols received comments regarding participant information and consent forms (n = 182, 80.5%), methodology and statistical analyses (n = 160, 70.8%), and supporting documentation, including trial agreements and certificates of insurance (n = 154, 68.1%). Of the submitted protocols, 122 (54.0%) were non-industry and 104 (46.0%) were industry-sponsored trials. Non-industry trials more often received comments on subject selection (n = 44, 36.1%) than industry-sponsored trials (n = 18, 17.3%; RR, 1.58; 95% CI, 1.01 to 2.47), and on methodology and statistical analyses (n = 95, 77.9% versus n = 65, 62.5%, respectively; RR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.37). Non-industry trials less often received comments on supporting documentation (n = 72, 59.0%) than industry-sponsored trials (n = 82, 78.8%; RR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.72 to 0.95).
RECs identified important ethical and methodological shortcomings in protocols of both industry-sponsored and non-industry drug trials. Investigators, especially of non-industry trials, should better prepare their research protocols in order to facilitate the ethical review process.
Research ethics committees; Ethical review; Research protocols; Drug trials; Sponsorship; Pharmaceutical industry; Shortcomings
In recent years, the attention on the use of coercion in mental health care has increased. The use of coercion is common and controversial, and involves many complex ethical challenges. The research question in this study was: What kind of ethical challenges related to the use of coercion do health care practitioners face in their daily clinical work?
We conducted seven focus group interviews in three mental health care institutions involving 65 multidisciplinary participants from different clinical fields. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. We analysed the material applying a ‘bricolage’ approach. Basic ethical principles for research ethics were followed. We received permission from the hospitals’ administrations and all health care professionals who participated in the focus group interviews.
Health care practitioners describe ethical dilemmas they face concerning formal, informal and perceived coercion. They provide a complex picture. They have to handle various ethical challenges, not seldom concerning questions of life and death. In every situation, the dignity of the patient is at stake when coercion is considered as morally right, as well as when coercion is not the preferred intervention. The work of the mental health professional is a complicated “moral enterprise”.
The ethical challenges deserve to be identified and handled in a systematic way. This is important for developing the quality of health care, and it is relevant to the current focus on reducing the use of coercion and increasing patient participation. Precise knowledge about ethical challenges is necessary for those who want to develop ethics support in mental health care. Better communication skills among health care professionals and improved therapeutic relationships seem to be vital.
A systematic focus on ethical challenges when dealing with coercion is an important step forward in order to improve health care in the mental health field.
Coercion; Ethical challenges; Focus group interview; Mental health care
The creation of biobanks depends upon people’s willingness to donate their samples for research purposes and to agree to sample storage. Moreover, biobanks are a public good that requires active participation by all interested stakeholders at every stage of development. Therefore, knowing public’s attitudes towards participation in a biobank and biobank management is important and deserves investigation.
A survey was conducted among family members of patients attending the outpatient department of our institute for a geriatric or neurological visit, documenting their willingness to participate in a biobank and their views on the legal-ethical aspects of biobank management. Information regarding subjects’ attitudes on biomedical research in general and genetic research in particular was also collected. Participants’ data on biobanks were compared with data previously collected from the Italian ethics committees (ECs) to evaluate the extent to which lay people and ethics committees share views and concerns regarding biobanks.
One hundred forty-five subjects took part in the survey. The willingness to give biological samples for the constitution of a biobank set up for research purposes was declared by 86% of subjects and was modulated by subjects’ education. People in favour of providing biological samples for a biobank expressed a more positive view on biomedical research than did people who were not in favour; attitude towards genetic research in dementia was the strongest predictor of participation. Different from ECs that prefer specific consent (52%) and do not choose the option of broad consent (8%) for samples collection in a biobank, participants show a clear preference for broad consent (57%), followed by partially restricted consent (16%), specific consent (15%), and multi-layered consent (12%). Almost all of the subjects available to contribute to a biobank desire to receive both individual research results and research results of general value, while around fifty per cent of ECs require results communication.
Family members showed willingness to participate in a biobank for research and expressed a view on the ethical aspects of a biobank management that differ on several issues from the Italian ECs’ opinion. Laypersons’ views should be taken into account in developing biobank regulations.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-81) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Public attitudes; Biobanks; Genetic research; Bioethics; Ethical policy
In order to ensure an adequate and ongoing protection of individuals participating in scientific research, the impacts of new biomedical technologies, such as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), need to be assessed. In this light, a necessary reexamination of the ethical and legal structures framing research could lead to requisite changes in informed consent modalities. This would have implications for Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), who bear the responsibility of guaranteeing that participants are verifiably informed, and in sufficient detail, to understand the reality of genetic research as it is practiced now. Current literature allowed the identification of key emergent themes related to the consent process when NGS was used in a research setting.
We examined the subjects of secondary use, sharing of materials and data, and recontacting participants as outlined in the Canadian Informed Consent templates and the accompanying IRB instructions for the conduct of genetic research. The research ethics policy applied by the three Canadian research agencies (Tri-Council Policy Statement, 2nd Edition) was used to frame our content analysis. We also obtained IRB-approved consent forms for genetic research projects on brain and mental health disorders as an example of a setting where participants might present higher-than-average vulnerability.
Eighty percent of documents addressed different modalities for the secondary use of material and/or data, although the message was not conveyed in a systematic way. Information on the sharing of genetic sequencing data in a manner completely independent of the material from which it originated was absent. Grounds for recontacting participants were limited, and mainly mentioned to obtain consent for secondary use. A feature of the IRB-approved consent documents for genetic studies on brain and mental health disorders using NGS technologies, offered a complete explanation on sharing material and data and the use of databases.
The results of our work show that in Canada, many NGS research needs are already dealt with. Our analysis led us to propose the addition of well-defined categories for future use, adding options on the sharing of genetic data, and widening the grounds on which research participants could consent to be recontacted.
Participants’ protection; Institutional review boards; Next generation sequencing; Secondary use; Recontacting participants; Data sharing; Genetic research; Informed consent; Vulnerable populations; Mental health; Brain disorders
China has become a global player in the field of biosamples research and analysis of genetic data. The Beijing Genomics Institute is a genetics factory where enormous amounts of biosamples/data from all over the world are being analyzed. Most of the global bioethics discussions focused on research conducted by scientists from industrialized countries with subjects from poorer countries. Today, however, samples from industrialized nations are being analyzed in China on an unprecedented scale. This means that one should not just focus on bioethics developments in western countries, but also should pay attention to the situation in China. Under this era of rapid advancement in genomics, reassessing the conventionally accepted bioethical principles is strongly needed.
In this paper, we will analyze the case of BGI in the context of the Chinese regulatory system in order to identify methods to regulate genetic research more effectively and to strengthen BGI’s role in international collaborative research projects. Three main issues concerning sample collection and samples/data management are addressed. Firstly, an ambiguous definition of research, which does not specifically include biosamples/data, when applied to genetic research, may cause confusion and leave loopholes in governance. Secondly, the current regulations do not provide sufficient guidelines on the details of what information to present to prospective subjects, and how to combine informed consent with strategies of re-consent, withdrawal and feedback from research. Finally, the existing regulations do not adequately address issues of genetic privacy and data protection.
Bioethical issues related to genetic research in China may be partially due to the nature of genetic research and partially stems from the strategy of simply adopting general international guidelines into the Chinese context without detailed considerations of the local needs. However, there are no perfect readymade ethical solutions for everyone; every country faces different open questions and challenges behind what appears to be unified guidelines. Given the importance of China in international genetic research, other countries ought to be concerned about the bioethical developments in China. China should also have a substantive discussion with the international community on bioethics issues.
Biosamples; Data; BGI; Ethics; Governance; China
Placebo-controlled surgical trials can provide important information about the efficacy of surgical interventions. However, they are ethically contentious as placebo surgery entails the risk of harms to recipients, such as pain, scarring or anaesthetic misadventure. This has led to claims that placebo-controlled surgical trials are inherently unethical. On the other hand, without placebo-controlled surgical trials, it may be impossible to know whether an apparent benefit from surgery is due to the intervention itself or to the placebo effect.
In this paper we investigate justifications for placebo-controlled surgical trials and suggest three measures for strengthening their ethical acceptability. We argue that, given the extent, irreversibility and cost of surgical interventions, there is a need for the best possible evidence about their efficacy. In some cases, the strongest evidence will be from placebo-controlled surgical trials, especially where interventions are for outcomes (such as pain) that are likely to elicit a placebo response. In the second part of the paper, we propose three specific measures to increase the ethical acceptability of placebo-controlled surgical trials. The first is structured consultation with the relevant patient community about the risks and benefits of particular placebo-controlled surgical trials. The second seeks to address the therapeutic misconception through the use of educational materials, informed by patient consultation. Finally, we argue for ethical consideration of non-surgeon clinicians who are necessarily involved in the delivery of placebo-surgical interventions.
If there is no appropriate surgical comparator and the risks can be reduced to the absolute minimum (given the type of placebo procedure required), and the research has the support of the relevant patient community, there may be grounds for judging that the potential benefits of specific placebo-controlled surgical trials outweigh the risks. If so justified, the ethical acceptability of placebo-controlled surgical trials can be enhanced through using educational measures to address participant vulnerability, and by recognizing clinicians who are necessary participants in the research.
Placebo-controlled surgical trials; Research ethics; Therapeutic misconception; Research methods; Surgical research; Efficacy; Placebo effect; Consumer involvement
It has been reported by some studies that the desire to be involved in decisions concerning one’s healthcare especially with regard to obtaining informed consent is related to educational status. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to assess the influence of educational status on attitude towards informed consent practice in three south-eastern Nigerian communities.
Responses from consenting adult participants from three randomly selected communities in Enugu State, southeast Nigeria were obtained using self-/interviewer-administered questionnaire.
There were 2545 respondents (1508 males and 1037 females) with an age range of 18 to 65 years. More than 70% were aged 40 years and below and 28.4% were married. More than 70% of the respondents irrespective of educational status will not leave all decisions about their healthcare to the doctor. A lower proportion of those with no formal education (18.5%) will leave this entire decision-making process in the hands of the doctor compared to those with tertiary education (21.9%). On being informed of all that could go wrong with a procedure, 61.5% of those with no formal education would consider the doctor unsafe and incompetent while 64.2% of those with tertiary education would feel confident about the doctor. More than 85% of those with tertiary education would prefer consent to be obtained by the doctor who will carry out the procedure as against 33.8% of those with no formal education. Approximately 70% of those who had tertiary education indicated that informed consent was necessary for procedures on children, while the greater number of those with primary (64.4%) and no formal education (76.4%) indicated that informed consent was not necessary for procedures on children. Inability to understand the information was the most frequent specific response among those without formal education on why they would leave all the decisions to the doctor.
The study showed that knowledge of the informed consent practice increased with level of educational attainment but most of the participants irrespective of educational status would want to be involved in decisions about their healthcare. This knowledge will be helpful to healthcare providers in obtaining informed consent.
Informed consent; Educational status; Attitude
For many decades, access to human biological samples, such as cells, tissues, organs, blood, and sub-cellular materials such as DNA, for use in biomedical research, has been central in understanding the nature and transmission of diseases across the globe. However, the limitations of current ethical and regulatory frameworks in sub-Saharan Africa to govern the collection, export, storage and reuse of these samples have resulted in inconsistencies in practice and a number of ethical concerns for sample donors, researchers and research ethics committees. This paper examines stakeholders’ perspectives of and responses to the ethical issues arising from these research practices.
We employed a qualitative strategy of inquiry for this research including in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with key research stakeholders in Kenya (Nairobi and Kilifi), and Ghana (Accra and Navrongo).
The stakeholders interviewed emphasised the compelling scientific importance of sample export, storage and reuse, and acknowledged the existence of some structures governing these research practices, but they also highlighted the pressing need for a number of practical ethical concerns to be addressed in order to ensure high standards of practice and to maintain public confidence in international research collaborations. These concerns relate to obtaining culturally appropriate consent for sample export and reuse, understanding cultural sensitivities around the use of blood samples, facilitating a degree of local control of samples and sustainable scientific capacity building.
Drawing on these findings and existing literature, we argue that the ethical issues arising in practice need to be understood in the context of the interactions between host research institutions and local communities and between collaborating institutions. We propose a set of ‘key points-to-consider’ for research institutions, ethics committees and funding agencies to address these issues.
Human biological samples; Broad consent; Research collaboration; Sample export; Africa
The pursuit of unproven stem cell-based interventions (“stem cell tourism”) is an emerging issue that raises various concerns. Physicians play different roles in this market, many of which engage their legal, ethical and professional obligations. In Canada, physicians are members of a self-regulated profession and their professional regulatory bodies are responsible for regulating the practice of medicine and protecting the public interest. They also provide policy guidance to their members and discipline members for unprofessional conduct.
We conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with representatives from six different provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada to discuss their experiences and perspectives regarding stem cell tourism. Our focus was on exploring how different types of physician involvement in this market would be viewed by physicians’ professional regulatory bodies in Canada.
When considering physicians’ professional obligations, participants drew analogies between stem cell tourism and other areas of medical tourism as well as with some aspects of complementary alternative medicine where existing policies, codes of ethics and regulations provide some guidance. Canadian physicians are required to act in the best interests of their patients, respect patient autonomy, avoid conflicts of interest and pursue evidence-based practice in accordance with accepted standards of care. Physicians who provide unproven treatments falling outside the standard of care, not in the context of an approved research protocol, could be subject to professional discipline. Other types of problematic conduct include referrals involving financial conflict of interest and failure to provide urgent medically necessary care. Areas of ambiguity include physicians’ obligations when asked for information and advice about seeking unproven medical treatments, in terms of providing non-urgent follow-up care, and when asked to support efforts to go abroad by providing tests or procedures in advance that would not otherwise be medically indicated.
Specific policy guidance regarding the identified areas of tension or ambiguity may prove helpful for physicians struggling with these issues. Further consideration of the complex interplay of factors at issue in how physicians may (should) respond to patient demands related to unproven medical interventions while meeting their professional, legal and ethical obligations, is warranted.
Stem cell tourism; Medical tourism; Professional regulation; Professional discipline; Policy; Ethics
The Groningen Protocol aims at providing guidance in end-of-life decision-making for severely impaired newborns. Since its publication in 2005 many bioethicists and health care professionals have written articles in response. However, only very little is known about the opinion among the general population on this subject. The aim of this study was to present the general attitude towards neonatal euthanasia (NE) among the Austrian population and the factors associated with the respondents’ opinion.
A cross-sectional study was conducted among the general Austrian population. Computer-assisted telephone interviews were performed with 1,000 interviewees aged 16 years and older. Binary logistic regression was performed in order to determine factors that are independently associated with the respondents’ opinion about neonatal euthanasia.
While 63.6% of the participants rejected the idea of neonatal euthanasia for severely impaired newborns, 36.4% opted either in favor or were undecided. Regression analysis has shown the respondents’ educational level (p = 0.005) and experience in the care of terminally ill persons (p = 0.001) to be factors that are positively associated with the rejection of neonatal euthanasia, whereas a higher age was associated with a lower degree of rejection (p = 0.021).
We found that the majority of the Austrian population rejects the idea of neonatal euthanasia for severely impaired newborns. However, given the increasing levels of rejection of NE among the younger generations and among people with a higher educational level, it cannot be precluded that the rejection rate might in future increase even further, rather than decrease.
Neonatal euthanasia; Attitude; Public opinion; Austria; End-of-life care; Groningen protocol
Teaching ethics in public health programmes is not routine everywhere – at least not in most schools of public health in the European region. Yet empirical evidence shows that schools of public health are more and more interested in the integration of ethics in their curricula, since public health professionals often have to face difficult ethical decisions.
The authors have developed and practiced an approach to how ethics can be taught even in crowded curricula, requiring five to eight hours of teaching and learning contact time. In this way, if programme curricula do not allow more time for ethics, students of public health can at least be sensitised to ethics and ethical argumentation. This approach – focusing on the application of seven mid-level principles to cases (non-maleficence, beneficence, health maximisation, efficiency, respect for autonomy, justice, proportionality) – is presented in this paper. Easy to use ‘tools’ applying ethics to public health are presented.
The crowded nature of the public health curriculum, and the nature of students participating in it, required us to devise and develop a short course, and to use techniques that were likely to provide a relatively efficient introduction to the processes, content and methods involved in the field of ethics.
Public health; Ethics; Education; Curriculum; Principle based ethics
Paediatric genomic research raises particularly challenging questions on whether and under what circumstances to return research results. In the paediatric context, decision-making is guided by the best interests of the child framework, as enshrined in the 1989 international Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to this Convention, rights and responsibilities are shared between children, parents, researchers, and the state. These "relational" obligations are further complicated in the context of genetic research.
A comparative review of international, regional and national documents on the return of research results reveals that there is a dearth of normative documents in the paediatric context. The best interests of the child framework is increasingly complicated by a growing appreciation of pediatric autonomy and the development thereof; parental rights (particularly when parents are affected by the genomic information of their children); and the right not to know.
This comparative analysis reveals that policy-makers and legislators have responded to the above challenges in different ways. Nevertheless, in Europe as well as in Canada, there is an emerging trend towards making the return of certain results mandatory in the paediatric context, should this course of action prove to be in the best interests of the child.
Return of research results; Best interests of the child; Paediatrics; Genomic research; Convention on the Rights of the Child; Children’s rights
Translational research in medicine requires researchers to identify the steps to transfer basic scientific discoveries from laboratory benches to bedside decision-making, and eventually into clinical practice. On a parallel track, philosophical work in ethics has not been obliged to identify the steps to translate theoretical conclusions into adequate practice. The medical ethicist A. Cribb suggested some years ago that it is now time to debate ‘the business of translational’ in medical ethics. Despite the very interesting and useful perspective on the field of medical ethics launched by Cribb, the debate is still missing. In this paper, I take up Cribb’s invitation and discuss further analytic distinctions needed to base an ethics aiming to translate between theory and practice.
The analytic distinctions needed to base an ethics aiming to translate between theory and practice are identified as ‘movements of translation’. I explore briefly what would constitute success and limitations to these intended translational movements by addressing the challenges of the epistemological gap between philosophical and practical ethics. The categories of translational movements I suggest can serve as a starting point for a systematic, collective self-inspection and discussion of the merits and limitations of the various academic and practical activities that bioethicists are engaged in. I further propose that translational ethics could be considered as a new discipline of ethical work constructively structured around compositions of translational movements.
Breaking the idea of translational ethics into distinct translational movements provide us with a nuanced set of conditions to explore and discuss the justification and limitations of various efforts carried out in the field of bioethics. In this sense, the proposed framework could be a useful vehicle for augmented collective, self-reflexivity among both philosophers and practitioners who are ‘doing bioethics’. Also, carefully designed, overall approaches combining justified, self-reflexive philosophical and practical efforts according to the suggested distinctions could be expected to realise – or at least improve a facilitation of – translation of ethics across the theory-practice gap.
Translation; Translational ethics; Theory-practice gap; Medical ethics; Bioethics; Self-reflexivity and ethical discipline
Involving children in research studies requires obtaining parental permission. A school-based intervention to delay/prevent waterpipe use for 7th and 8th graders in Qatar was developed, and parental permission requested. Fifty three percent (2308/4314) of the parents returned permission forms; of those 19.5% of the total (840/4314) granted permission. This paper describes the challenges to obtaining parental permission. No research to date has described such challenges in the Arab world.
A random sample of 40 schools in Doha, Qatar was selected for inclusion in the original intervention. Permission forms were distributed to parents for approval of their child’s participation. The permission forms requested that parents indicate their reasons for non-permission if they declined. These were categorized into themes. In order to understand reasons for non-permission, interviews with parents were conducted. Phone numbers of parents were requested from the school administration; 12 of the 40 schools (30%) agreed to provide the contact information. A random sample of 28 parents from 12 schools was interviewed to reach data saturation. Thematic analysis was used to analyze their responses.
Reasons for non-permission documented in both the forms and interviews included: poor timing; lack of interest; the child not wanting to participate; and the child living in a smoke-free environment. Interviews provided information on important topics to include in the consent forms, parents’ decision-making processes regarding their child’s participation, and considerations for communicating with parents. Many parents also indicated that this was the first time they had been asked to give an informed consent for their child’s participation in a study.
Results indicate that more attention needs to be given to the informed parental consent process. Researchers should consider enhancing both the methods of communicating information as well the specific information provided. Before embarking on recruitment of children for studies, formative research on the parental consent process is suggested.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-70) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Informed consent; Parental consent; Qatar; School; Intervention; Waterpipe
The systematic review of reasons is a new way to obtain comprehensive information about specific ethical topics. One such review was carried out for the question of why post-trial access to trial drugs should or need not be provided. The objective of this study was to empirically validate this review using an author check method. The article also reports on methodological challenges faced by our study.
We emailed a questionnaire to the 64 corresponding authors of those papers that were assessed in the review of reasons on post-trial access. The questionnaire consisted of all quotations (“reason mentions”) that were identified by the review to represent a reason in a given author’s publication, together with a set of codings for the quotations. The authors were asked to rate the correctness of the codings.
We received 19 responses, from which only 13 were completed questionnaires. In total, 98 quotations and their related codes in the 13 questionnaires were checked by the addressees. For 77 quotations (79%), all codings were deemed correct, for 21 quotations (21%), some codings were deemed to need correction. Most corrections were minor and did not imply a complete misunderstanding of the citation.
This first attempt to validate a review of reasons leads to four crucial methodological questions relevant to the future conduct of such validation studies: 1) How can a description of a reason be deemed incorrect? 2) Do the limited findings of this author check study enable us to determine whether the core results of the analysed SRR are valid? 3) Why did the majority of surveyed authors refrain from commenting on our understanding of their reasoning? 4) How can the method for validating reviews of reasons be improved?
Systematic review of reason; Systematic review; Methodology; Medical ethics; Bioethics; Empirical ethics; Post-trial access
Approximately 20% of adult cancer patients are eligible to participate in a clinical trial, but only 2.5-9% do so. Accrual is even less for minority and medically underserved populations. As a result, critical life-saving treatments and quality of life services developed from research studies may not address their needs. This study questions the utility of the bioethical concern with therapeutic misconception (TM), a misconception that occurs when research subjects fail to distinguish between clinical research and ordinary treatment, and therefore attribute therapeutic intent to research procedures in the safety net setting. This paper provides ethnographic insight into the ways in which research is discussed and related to standard treatment.
In the course of two years of ethnographic fieldwork in a safety net hospital, I conducted clinic observations (n = 150 clinic days) and in-depth in-person qualitative interviews with patients (n = 37) and providers (n = 15). I used standard qualitative methods to organize and code resulting fieldnote and interview data.
Findings suggest that TM is limited in relevance for the interdisciplinary context of cancer clinical trial recruitment in the safety net setting. Ethnographic data show the value of the discussions that happen prior to the informed consent, those that introduce the idea of participation in research. These preliminary discussions are elemental especially when recruiting underserved and vulnerable patients for clinical trial participation who are often unfamiliar with medical research and how it relates to medical care. Data also highlight the multiple actors involved in research discussions and the ethics of social justice and patient advocacy they mobilize, suggesting that class, inequality, and dependency influence the forms of ethical engagements in public hospital settings.
On the ground ethics of social justice and patient advocacy are more relevant than TM as guiding ethical principles in the context of ongoing cancer disparities and efforts to diversify clinical trial participation.
The debate on the ethical aspects of moral bioenhancement focuses on the desirability of using biomedical as opposed to traditional means to achieve moral betterment. The aim of this paper is to systematically review the ethical reasons presented in the literature for and against moral bioenhancement.
A review was performed and resulted in the inclusion of 85 articles. We classified the arguments used in those articles in the following six clusters: (1) why we (don’t) need moral bioenhancement, (2) it will (not) be possible to reach consensus on what moral bioenhancement should involve, (3) the feasibility of moral bioenhancement and the status of current scientific research, (4) means and processes of arriving at moral improvement matter ethically, (5) arguments related to the freedom, identity and autonomy of the individual, and (6) arguments related to social/group effects and dynamics. We discuss each argument separately, and assess the debate as a whole. First, there is little discussion on what distinguishes moral bioenhancement from treatment of pathological deficiencies in morality. Furthermore, remarkably little attention has been paid so far to the safety, risks and side-effects of moral enhancement, including the risk of identity changes. Finally, many authors overestimate the scientific as well as the practical feasibility of the interventions they discuss, rendering the debate too speculative.
Based on our discussion of the arguments used in the debate on moral enhancement, and our assessment of this debate, we advocate a shift in focus. Instead of speculating about non-realistic hypothetical scenarios such as the genetic engineering of morality, or morally enhancing ‘the whole of humanity’, we call for a more focused debate on realistic options of biomedical treatment of moral pathologies and the concrete moral questions these treatments raise.
Moral enhancement; ethical analysis; neuroethics
International documents on ethical conduct in clinical research have in common the principle that potential harms to research participants must be proportional to anticipated benefits. The anticipated benefits that can justify human research consist of direct benefits to the research participant, and societal benefits, also called social value. In first-in-human research, no direct benefits are expected and the benefit component of the risks-benefit assessment thus merely exists in social value. The concept social value is ambiguous by nature and is used in numerous ways in the research ethics literature. Because social value justifies involving human participants, especially in early human trials, this is problematic.
Our analysis and interpretation of the concept social value has led to three proposals. First, as no direct benefits are expected for the research participants in first-in-human trials, we believe it is better to discuss a risk- value assessment instead of a risk - benefit assessment. This will also make explicit the necessity to have a clear and common use for the concept social value. Second, to avoid confusion we propose to limit the concept social value to the intervention tested. It is the expected improvement the intervention can bring to the wellbeing of (future) patients or society that is referred to when we speak about social value. For the sole purpose of gaining knowledge, we should not expose humans to potential harm; the ultimate justification of involving humans in research lies in the anticipated social value of the intervention. Third, at the moment only the validity of the clinical research proposal is a prerequisite for research to take place. We recommend making the anticipated social value a prerequisite as well.
In this paper we analyze the use of the concept social value in research ethics. Despite its unavoidable ambiguity, we aim to find a best use of the concept, subject to its role in justifying involving humans in first-in-human research.
Social value; Ethics of translational medicine; Research ethics
More involvement of sub-Saharan African countries in biomedical studies, specifically in genetic research, is needed to advance individualized medicine that will benefit non-European populations. Missing infrastructure, cultural and religious beliefs as well as lack of understanding of research benefits can pose a challenge to recruitment. Here we describe recruitment efforts for a large genetic study requiring three-generation pedigrees within the Yoruba homelands of Nigeria. The aim of the study was to identify genes responsible for keloids, a wound healing disorder. We also discuss ethical and logistical considerations that we encountered in preparation for this research endeavor.
Protocols for this bi-national intercultural study were approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) in the US and the ethics committees of the Nigerian institutions for consideration of cultural differences. Principles of community based participatory research were employed throughout the recruitment process. Keloid patients (patient advisors), community leaders, kings/chiefs and medical directors were engaged to assist the research teams with recruitment strategies. Community meetings, church forums, and media outlets (study flyers, radio and TV announcements) were utilized to promote the study in Nigeria. Recruitment of research participants was conducted by trained staff from the local communities. Pedigree structures were re-analyzed on a regular basis as new family members were recruited and recruitment challenges were documented.
Total recruitment surpassed 4200 study participants over a 7-year period including 79 families with complete three-generation pedigrees. In 9 families more than 20 family members participated, however, in 5 of these families, we encountered issues with pedigree structure as members from different branches presented inconsistent family histories. These issues were due to the traditional open family structure amongst the Yoruba and by beliefs in voodoo or in juju. In addition, family members living in other parts of the country or abroad complicated timely and complete family recruitment.
Organizational, logistics and ethics challenges can be overcome by additional administrative efforts, good communication, community involvement and education of staff members. However, recruitment challenges due to infrastructural shortcomings or cultural and religious beliefs can lead to significant delays, which may negatively affect study time lines and expectations of funding agencies.
Keloid; Recruitment; Genetics; Families; Yoruba; Nigeria; Low resource settings
Breast cancer is a major public health challenge. Organized mammography screening (OS) is considered one way to reduce breast cancer mortality. EU recommendations prone mass deployment of OS, and back in 2004, France introduced a national OS programme for women aged 50–74 years. However, in 2012, participation rate was still just 52.7%, well short of the targeted 70% objective. In an effort to re-address the (in) efficiency of the programme, the French National Cancer Institute has drafted an expert-group review of the ethical issues surrounding breast cancer mammography screening.
Prompted by emerging debate over the efficiency of the screening scheme and its allied public information provision, we keynote the experts’ report based on analysis of epidemiological data and participation rate from the public health authorities. The low coverage of the OS scheme may be partly explained by the fact that a significant number of women undergo mammography outside OS and thus outside OS criteria. These findings call for further thinking on (i) the ethical principles of beneficence and non-malfeasance underpinning this public health initiative, (ii) the reasons behind women’s and professionals’ behavior, and (iii) the need to analyze how information provision to women and the doctor-patient relationship need to evolve in response to scientific controversy over the risks and benefits of conducting mammographic screening.
This work calls for a reappraisal of the provision of screening programme information. We advocate a move to integrate the points sparking debate over the efficiency of the screening scheme to guarantee full transparency. The perspective is to strengthen the respect for autonomy allowing women to make an informed choice in their decision on whether or not to participate.
Breast cancer screening; Organized programme; Ethics; Information
Financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest in medicine and surgery are troubling because they have the capacity to skew decision making in ways that might be detrimental to patient care and well-being. The recent case of the Articular Surface Replacement (ASR) hip provides a vivid illustration of the harmful effects of conflicts of interest in surgery.
We identify financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest experienced by surgeons, hospitals and regulators in the ASR case. These conflicts may have impacted surgical advice, decision-making and evidence gathering with respect to the ASR prosthesis, and contributed to the significant harms experienced by patients in whom the hip was implanted. Drawing on this case we explore shortcomings in the standard responses to conflicts of interest – disclosure and recusal. We argue disclosure is necessary but by no means sufficient to address conflicts of interest. Using the concept of recusal we develop remedies including second opinions and third party consent which may be effective in mitigating conflicts, but their implementation introduces new challenges.
Deployment of the ASR hip is a case of surgical innovation gone wrong. As we show, there were multiple conflicts of interest involved in the introduction of the ASR hip into practice and subsequent attempts to gloss over the mounting body of evidence about its lack of safety and effectiveness. Conflicts of interest in surgery are often not well managed. We suggest strategies in this paper which can minimise the conflicts of interest associated with surgical innovation.
ASR hip; Conflicts of interest; Disclosure; Recusal; Surgical innovation