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1.  Ethical issues evolving from patients’ perspectives on compulsory screening for syphilis and voluntary screening for cervical cancer in Kenya 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:27.
Public health aims to provide universal safety and progressive opportunities to populations to realise their highest level of health through prevention of disease, its progression or transmission. Screening asymptomatic individuals to detect early unapparent conditions is an important public health intervention strategy. It may be designed to be compulsory or voluntary depending on the epidemiological characteristics of the disease. Integrated screening, including for both syphilis and cancer of the cervix, is a core component of the national reproductive health program in Kenya. Screening for syphilis is compulsory while it is voluntary for cervical cancer. Participants’ perspectives of either form of screening approach provide the necessary contextual information that clarifies mundane community concerns.
Focus group discussions with female clients screened for syphilis and cancer of the cervix were conducted to elicit their perspectives of compulsory and voluntary screening. The discussions were audiotaped, transcribed and thematic content analysis performed manually to explore emerging ethics issues.
The results indicate that real ethical challenges exist in either of the approaches. Also, participants were more concerned about the benefits of the procedure and whether their dignity is respected than the compulsoriness of screening per se. The implication is for the policy makers to clarify in the guidelines how to manage ethical challenges, while at the operational level, providers need to be judicious to minimize potential harms participants and families when screening for disease in women.
The context for mounting screening as a public health intervention and attendant ethical issues may be more complex than hitherto perceived. Interpreting emerging ethics issues in screening requires more nuanced considerations of individuals’ contextual experiences since these may be contradictory to the policy position. In considering mounting screening for Syphilis and cervical cancer as a public heal intervention, the community interests and perspectives should be inculcated into the program. Population lack of information on procedures may influence adversely the demand for screening services by the individuals at risk or the community as a collective agent.
PMCID: PMC3973750  PMID: 24678613
Ethics; Public health; Compulsory screening; Voluntary screening; Participants’ perspectives; Syphilis; Cervical cancer
2.  Life context of pharmacological academic performance enhancement among university students – a qualitative approach 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:23.
Academic performance enhancement or cognitive enhancement (CE) via stimulant drug use has received increasing attention. The question remains, however, whether CE solely represents the use of drugs for achieving better academic or workplace results or whether CE also serves various other purposes. The aim of this study was to put the phenomenon of pharmacological academic performance enhancement via prescription and illicit (psycho-) stimulant use (Amphetamines, Methylphenidate) among university students into a broader context. Specifically, we wanted to further understand students’ experiences, the effects of use on students and other factors, such as pressure to perform in their academic and private lives.
A sample of 18 healthy university students reporting the non-medical use of prescription and illicit stimulants for academic performance enhancement was interviewed in a face-to-face setting. The leading questions were related to the situations and context in which the students considered the non-medical use of stimulants.
Based on the resultant transcript, two independent raters identified six categories relating to the life context of stimulant use for academic performance enhancement: Context of stimulant use beyond academic performance enhancement, Subjective experience of enhancement, Timing of consumption, Objective academic results, Side effects, Pressure to perform.
The answers reveal that academic performance enhancement through the use of stimulants is not an isolated phenomenon that solely aims at enhancing cognition to achieve better academic results but that the multifaceted life context in which it is embedded is of crucial relevance. The participants not only considered the stimulants advantageous for enhancing academic performance, but also for leading an active life with a suitable balance between studying and time off. The most common reasons given for stimulant use were to maximize time, to increase motivation and to cope with memorizing. According to the interviews, there is a considerable discrepancy between subjective experiences and objective academic results achieved.
PMCID: PMC3973848  PMID: 24606831
Cognitive enhancement; Academic performance enhancement; Stimulants; Ethics; Attitudes; Life impact; University students
3.  Consent and assent in paediatric research in low-income settings 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:22.
In order to involve children in the decision-making process about participation in medical research it is widely recommended that the child’s assent be sought in addition to parental consent. However, the concept of assent is fraught with difficulties, resulting in confusion among researchers and ethics committees alike.
In this paper, we outline the current international debate surrounding pediatric consent and assent, and its unique challenges arising in low-income settings. We go on to propose some key requirements for a fit-for-purpose assent model in these difficult settings. The paper recommends that children who are competent, that is, children who are judged to be able to understand and retain relevant information, weigh this information in making a mature judgment, come to a decision and communicate the decision, should be able to consent for themselves. Our proposal is that where the decision about whether to participate in a study is of comparable complexity to the decisions the child is used to making in other aspects of his or her life, it should be made by the child him or herself. The relevant level of complexity should be judged by local standards rather than standards of the developed world. In the paper we explore some of the practical challenges and counter arguments of implementing this proposal. As in high-income settings, we argue that in the case of children who are judged to lack this level of competence both parental consent and assent from the child should be sought and go on to define assent as involving the child to the extent compatible to his or her maturity and with cultural norms and not as obtaining the child’s permission to proceed.
The concept of assent in the current guidelines is confusing. There is an urgent need for clearer guidelines that can be adapted for all types of paediatric research wherever it is to be carried out and an evidence-base concerning good assent/consent practice. This paper argues that a context specific approach should be adopted when assessing whether consent or assent should be sought from children in low-income settings.
PMCID: PMC3973992  PMID: 24597948
Consent; Assent; Paediatric research; Low-income setting; Children
4.  The implications of Methylphenidate use by healthy medical students and doctors in South Africa 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:20.
The use of medical stimulants to sustain attention, augment memory and enhance intellectual capacity is increasing in society. The use of Methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement is a subject that has received much attention in the literature and academic circles in recent times globally. Medical doctors and medical students appear to be equally involved in the off-label use of Methylphenidate. This presents a potential harm to society and the individual as the long-term side effect profile of this medication is unknown.
The implication of the use of Methylphenidate by medical students and doctors has not been fully explored. This article considers the impact of this use on the traditional role of medicine, society, the patient and suggests a way forward. We discuss the salient philosophy surrounding the use of cognitive enhancement. We query whether there are cognitive benefits to the use of Methylphenidate in healthy students and doctors and whether these benefits would outweigh the risks in taking the medication. Could these benefits lead to tangible outcomes for society and could the off label-use of Methylphenidate potentially undermine the medical profession and the treatment of patients? If cognitive benefits are proven then doctors may be coerced explicitly or implicitly to use the drug which may undermine their autonomy. The increased appeal of cognitive enhancement challenges the traditional role of medicine in society, and calls into question the role of a virtuous life as a contributing factor for achievement. In countries with vast economic disparity such as South Africa an enhancement of personal utility that can be bought may lead to greater inequities.
Under the status quo the distribution of methylphenidate is unjust. Regulatory governmental policy must seek to remedy this while minimising the potential for competitive advantage for the enhanced. Public debate on the use of cognitive enhancement is long overdue and must be stimulated. The use of Methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement is philosophically defendable if long-term research can prove that the risks are negligible and the outcomes tangible.
PMCID: PMC3974029  PMID: 24592964
Methylphenidate; Ritalin; Healthy; Medical students; Doctors; Utility; Cognitive; Enhancement
5.  Comparison of ethical judgments exhibited by clients and ethics consultants in Japan 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:19.
Healthcare professionals must make decisions for patients based on ethical considerations. However, they rely on clinical ethics consultations (CEC) to review ethical justifications of their decisions. CEC consultants support the cases reviewed and guide medical care. When both healthcare professionals and CEC consultants face ethical problems in medical care, how is their judgment derived? How do medical judgments differ from the ethical considerations of CECs? This study examines CECs in Japan to identify differences in the ethical judgment of clients and CEC consultants.
The CEC request and response documents of all 60 cases reviewed across Japan between October 2006 and the end of October 2011 were classified in terms of the presence of decisional capacity in the patient. We conducted a qualitative content analysis of the differences in reasoning between client and CEC consultants. Reasoned judgments were verified in individual cases to classify the similarities or differences of opinion between CEC clients and teams.
As the result of classification of the decisional capacity and the difference of opinion regarding medical care, the most frequent category was 25 cases (41.7%) of “uncertain decisional capacity,” and 23 cases (38.3%) of “withholding of decision-making.” A chi-square analysis was performed on presence of decisional capacity and agreement in decision-making, yielding a statistically significant difference (p < 0.05). The CEC consultants’ reasoning was based on “patient’s preference was ambiguous,” “validity of family as a surrogate,” “estimation of patient preference,” and “patient’s best interest,” whereas the CEC client’s reasoning was based on “consistent family preference was shown/not shown” and “appropriate therapeutic methods to manage patient safety.”
Differences in opinions were found in cases classified according to decisional capacity. Furthermore, the reasoning behind judgments differed between CEC clients and CEC consultants. The reasoning of CEC consultants was critical and reflective, while for clients it was situational and pragmatic.
PMCID: PMC3975850  PMID: 24592932
Clinical ethics consultation; Ethical judgment; Ethical reasoning; Clinical ethics; Quality of healthcare
6.  Significant social events and increasing use of life-sustaining treatment: trend analysis using extracorporeal membrane oxygenation as an example 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:21.
Most studies have examined the outcomes of patients supported by extracorporeal membrane oxygenation as a life-sustaining treatment. It is unclear whether significant social events are associated with the use of life-sustaining treatment. This study aimed to compare the trend of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use in Taiwan with that in the world, and to examine the influence of significant social events on the trend of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation uses from 2000 to 2009 were collected from National Health Insurance Research Dataset. The number of the worldwide extracorporeal membrane oxygenation cases was mainly estimated using Extracorporeal Life Support Registry Report International Summary July 2012. The trend of Taiwan’s crude annual incidence rate of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use was compared with that of the rest of the world. Each trend of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use was examined using joinpoint regression.
The measurement was the crude annual incidence rate of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use. Each of the Taiwan’s crude annual incidence rates was much higher than the worldwide one in the same year. Both the trends of Taiwan’s and worldwide crude annual incidence rates have significantly increased since 2000. Joinpoint regression selected the model of the Taiwan’s trend with one joinpoint in 2006 as the best-fitted model, implying that the significant social events in 2006 were significantly associated with the trend change of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use following 2006. In addition, significantly social events highlighted by the media are more likely to be associated with the increase of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use than being fully covered by National Health Insurance.
Significant social events, such as a well-known person’s successful extracorporeal membrane oxygenation use highlighted by the mass media, are associated with the use of life-sustaining treatment such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
PMCID: PMC3975881  PMID: 24592981
Life-sustaining treatment; Extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation; Cardiopulmonary resuscitation; Media; Trend
7.  The attitudes of mental health professionals towards patients’ desire for children 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:18.
When a patient with a serious mental illness expresses a desire for children, mental health professionals are faced with an ethical dilemma. To date, little research has been conducted into their strategies for dealing with these issues.
Seven focus groups with a total of 49 participants from all professional groups active in mental health (nurses, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists) were conducted in a 330-bed psychiatric hospital. Group discussions were transcribed verbatim and analysed by the documentary method described by Bohnsack.
Mental health professionals did not feel that their patients’ desire for children was as important in daily practice as were parenting issues. When discussing the desire for children on the part of patients, the following themes emerged: “the patient’s own decision”, “neutrality”, “the patient’s well-being”, “issues affecting the children of mentally ill parents” and “appropriate parenthood”. In order to cope with what they perceived as conflicting norms, mental health professionals developed the following (discursive) strategies: "subordination of child welfare", "de-professionalisation", "giving rational advice" and "resignation".
The theme of “reproductive autonomy” dominated mental health professionals’ discourse on the desire for children among psychiatric patients. “Reproductive autonomy” stood in conflict with another important theme (patient’s children). Treating reproductive issues as taboo is the result of the gap between MHPs’ perceptions of (conflicting) norms when dealing with a patient’s desire for children and the limited opportunities to cope with them appropriately.
In order to support both patients with a desire for children and mental health professionals who are charged with providing counselling for such patients, there is a need to encourage ethical reflection and to focus on clinical recommendations in this important area.
PMCID: PMC3974019  PMID: 24580889
Mental health professionals; Normative orientations; Desire for children; Reproductive autonomy
8.  Research across the disciplines: a road map for quality criteria in empirical ethics research 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:17.
Research in the field of Empirical Ethics (EE) uses a broad variety of empirical methodologies, such as surveys, interviews and observation, developed in disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Whereas these empirical disciplines see themselves as purely descriptive, EE also aims at normative reflection. Currently there is literature about the quality of empirical research in ethics, but little or no reflection on specific methodological aspects that must be considered when conducting interdisciplinary empirical ethics. Furthermore, poor methodology in an EE study results in misleading ethical analyses, evaluations or recommendations. This not only deprives the study of scientific and social value, but also risks ethical misjudgement.
While empirical and normative-ethical research projects have quality criteria in their own right, we focus on the specific quality criteria for EE research. We develop a tentative list of quality criteria – a “road map” – tailored to interdisciplinary research in EE, to guide assessments of research quality. These quality criteria fall into the categories of primary research question, theoretical framework and methods, relevance, interdisciplinary research practice and research ethics and scientific ethos.
EE research is an important and innovative development in bioethics. However, a lack of standards has led to concerns about and even rejection of EE by various scholars. Our suggested orientation list of criteria, presented in the form of reflective questions, cannot be considered definitive, but serves as a tool to provoke systematic reflection during the planning and composition of an EE research study. These criteria need to be tested in different EE research settings and further refined.
PMCID: PMC3974020  PMID: 24580847
Empirical ethics; Evidence-based ethics; Empirical methodology; Applied bioethics; Interdisciplinarity; Methodology; Quality criteria
9.  Bringing prosocial values to translational, disease-specific stem cell research 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:16.
Disease-specific stem cell therapies, created from induced pluripotent stem cell lines containing the genetic defects responsible for a particular disease, have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of refractory chronic diseases. Given their capacity to differentiate into any human cell type, these cell lines might be reprogrammed to correct a disease-causing genetic defect in any tissue or organ, in addition to offering a more clinically realistic model for testing new drugs and studying disease mechanisms. Clinical translation of these therapies provides an opportunity to design a more systematic, accessible and patient-influenced model for the delivery of medically innovative treatments to chronically ill patients.
I focus on disease-specific cell therapies because the types of patients who would benefit from them have congenital, severe, high-maintenance chronic conditions. They accordingly have a very strong claim for medical need and therapeutic intervention, must interact regularly with health providers, and so have the greatest stake in influencing, at a systemic level, the way their care is delivered. Given such patients’ shared, aggregate needs for societal support and access to medical innovation, they constitute “patient communities”. To reify the relevance of patient communities within a clinical context, I propose competitive grants or “prizes” to spur innovation in delivery of care, promoting “prosocial” values of transparency, equity, patient empowerment, and patient-provider and inter-institutional collaboration. As facilitators of participant-driven advocacy for health and quality of life-improving measures, patient communities may be synergistic with the broad-based, geo-culturally embedded public health networks typically referred to as “communities” in the public health literature.
Prosocial values acquire a strong ethical justification based on shared need, and can be clearly defined as grant criteria, when applied to patients such as those who will benefit from disease-specific stem cell treatments. Within this context, prosociality aims not just to expand patients’ treatment choices, but also their opportunities to take a more active role in the management of their own care and contribute towards shared goals through better-informed advocacy. Accordingly, prosociality promotes relational autonomy as well as other basic bioethical principles, including beneficence and a holistic, relational conception of human dignity.
PMCID: PMC3944397  PMID: 24575864
Stem cells; Communitarianism; Cultural studies; Patient advocacy; Moral philosophy; Behavioral economics
10.  Conscientious objection to referrals for abortion: pragmatic solution or threat to women’s rights? 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:15.
Conscientious objection has spurred impassioned debate in many Western countries. Some Norwegian general practitioners (GPs) refuse to refer for abortion. Little is know about how the GPs carry out their refusals in practice, how they perceive their refusal to fit with their role as professionals, and how refusals impact patients. Empirical data can inform subsequent normative analysis.
Qualitative research interviews were conducted with seven GPs, all Christians. Transcripts were analysed using systematic text condensation.
Informants displayed a marked ambivalence towards their own refusal practices. Five main topics emerged in the interviews: 1) carrying out conscientious objection in practice, 2) justification for conscientious objection, 3) challenges when relating to colleagues, 4) ambivalence and consistency, 5) effects on the doctor-patient relationship.
Norwegian GP conscientious objectors were given to consider both pros and cons when evaluating their refusal practices. They had settled on a practical compromise, the precise form of which would vary, and which was deemed an acceptable middle way between competing interests.
PMCID: PMC3941773  PMID: 24571955
Abortion; Conscientious objection; General practitioner; Patient rights
11.  Ethical considerations related to participation and partnership: an investigation of stakeholders’ perceptions of an action-research project on user fee removal for the poorest in Burkina Faso 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:13.
Healthcare user fees present an important barrier for accessing services for the poorest (indigents) in Burkina Faso and selective removal of fees has been incorporated in national healthcare planning. However, establishing fair, effective and sustainable mechanisms for the removal of user fees presents important challenges. A participatory action-research project was conducted in Ouargaye, Burkina Faso, to test mechanisms for identifying those who are indigents, and funding and implementing user fee removal. In this paper, we explore stakeholder perceptions of ethical considerations relating to participation and partnership arising in the action-research.
We conducted 39 in-depth interviews to examine ethical issues associated with the action-research. Respondents included 14 individuals identified as indigent through the community selection process, seven members of village selection committees, six local healthcare professionals, five members of the management committees of local health clinics, five members of the research team, and four regional or national policy-makers. Using constant comparative techniques, we carried out an inductive thematic analysis of the collected data.
The Ouargaye project involved a participatory model, included both implementation and research components, and focused on a vulnerable group within small, rural communities. Stakeholder perceptions and experiences relating to the participatory approach and reliance on multiple partnerships in the project were associated with a range of ethical considerations related to 1) seeking common ground through communication and collaboration, 2) community participation and risk of stigmatization, 3) impacts of local funding of the user fee removal, 4) efforts to promote fairness in the selection of the indigents, and 5) power relations and the development of partnerships.
This investigation of the Ouargaye project serves to illuminate the distinctive ethical terrain of a participatory public health action-research project. In carrying out such projects, careful attention and effort is needed to establish and maintain respectful relationships amongst those involved, acknowledge and address differences of power and position, and evaluate burdens and risks for individuals and groups.
PMCID: PMC3933468  PMID: 24555854
Action-research; Burkina Faso; Ethics; Participatory research; Partnership; Research ethics; User fees
12.  Continuous sedation until death: the everyday moral reasoning of physicians, nurses and family caregivers in the UK, The Netherlands and Belgium 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:14.
Continuous sedation is increasingly used as a way to relieve symptoms at the end of life. Current research indicates that some physicians, nurses, and relatives involved in this practice experience emotional and/or moral distress. This study aims to provide insight into what may influence how professional and/or family carers cope with such distress.
This study is an international qualitative interview study involving interviews with physicians, nurses, and relatives of deceased patients in the UK, The Netherlands and Belgium (the UNBIASED study) about a case of continuous sedation at the end of life they were recently involved in. All interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed by staying close to the data using open coding. Next, codes were combined into larger themes and categories of codes resulting in a four point scheme that captured all of the data. Finally, our findings were compared with others and explored in relation to theories in ethics and sociology.
The participants’ responses can be captured as different dimensions of ‘closeness’, i.e. the degree to which one feels connected or ‘close’ to a certain decision or event. We distinguished four types of ‘closeness’, namely emotional, physical, decisional, and causal. Using these four dimensions of ‘closeness’ it became possible to describe how physicians, nurses, and relatives experience their involvement in cases of continuous sedation until death. More specifically, it shined a light on the everyday moral reasoning employed by care providers and relatives in the context of continuous sedation, and how this affected the emotional impact of being involved in sedation, as well as the perception of their own moral responsibility.
Findings from this study demonstrate that various factors are reported to influence the degree of closeness to continuous sedation (and thus the extent to which carers feel morally responsible), and that some of these factors help care providers and relatives to distinguish continuous sedation from euthanasia.
PMCID: PMC3942295  PMID: 24555871
13.  Motivations and perceptions of community advisory boards in the ethics of medical research: the case of the Thai-Myanmar border 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:12.
Community engagement is increasingly promoted as a marker of good, ethical practice in the context of international collaborative research in low-income countries. There is, however, no widely agreed definition of community engagement or of approaches adopted. Justifications given for its use also vary. Community engagement is, for example, variously seen to be of value in: the development of more effective and appropriate consent processes; improved understanding of the aims and forms of research; higher recruitment rates; the identification of important ethical issues; the building of better relationships between the community and researchers; the obtaining of community permission to approach potential research participants; and, the provision of better health care. Despite these diverse and potentially competing claims made for the importance of community engagement, there is very little published evidence on effective models of engagement or their evaluation.
In this paper, drawing upon interviews with the members of a Community Advisory Board on the Thai-Myanmar border, we describe and critically reflect upon an approach to community engagement which was developed in the context of international collaborative research in the border region.
Results and conclusions
Drawing on our analysis, we identify a number of considerations relevant to the development of an approach to evaluating community engagement in this complex research setting. The paper also identifies a range of important ways in which the Community Advisory Board is in practice understood by its members (and perhaps by community members beyond this) to have morally significant roles and responsibilities beyond those usually associated with the successful and appropriate conduct of research.
PMCID: PMC3929312  PMID: 24533875
Ethics; Evaluation; Community engagement; Community advisory boards; Developing countries; Thailand; Myanmar; Global health; International research
14.  The fiduciary obligation of the physician-researcher in phase IV trials 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:11.
In this manuscript, we argue that within the context of phase IV, physician-researchers retain their fiduciary obligation to treat the patient-participants.
We first clarify why the perspective that research ethics ought to be differentiated from clinical ethics is not applicable in phase IV, and therefore, why therapeutic orientation is most convivial in this phase. Next, assuming that ethics guidelines may be representative of common morality, we show that ethics guidelines see physician-researchers primarily as physicians and only secondarily as researchers. We then elaborate on what a fiduciary obligation is and how some of the obligations are default duties. Lastly, we look at the fiduciary obligation of the physician-researcher in phase IV interventional trials.
The fiduciary obligation to treat is not as easily waived as in earlier trials. Assuming the entwinement of research and practice in phase IV, physician-researchers, in collaboration with other researchers, investigators, and research ethics committees, should ensure that in terms of study design, methodology, and research practice, the therapeutic value of the research to the patient-participants is not diminished.
PMCID: PMC3922332  PMID: 24507449
Phase IV; Fiduciary obligation; Interventional trials; Physician-researchers
15.  Controversies and considerations regarding the termination of pregnancy for Foetal Anomalies in Islam 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:10.
Approximately one-fourth of all the inhabitants on earth are Muslims. Due to unprecedented migration, physicians are often confronted with cultures other than their own that adhere to different pdigms.
In Islam, and most religions, abortion is forbidden. Islam is considerably liberal concerning abortion, which is dependent on (i) the threat of harm to mothers, (ii) the status of the pregnancy before or after ensoulment (on the 120th day of gestation), and (iii) the presence of foetal anomalies that are incompatible with life. Considerable variation in religious edicts exists, but most Islamic scholars agree that the termination of a pregnancy for foetal anomalies is allowed before ensoulment, after which abortion becomes totally forbidden, even in the presence of foetal abnormalities; the exception being a risk to the mother’s life or confirmed intrauterine death.
The authors urge Muslim law makers to also consider abortion post ensoulment if it is certain that the malformed foetus will decease soon after birth or will be severely malformed and physically and mentally incapacitated after birth to avoid substantial hardship that may continue for years for mothers and family members. The authors recommend that an institutional committee governed and monitored by a national committee make decisions pertaining to abortion to ensure that ethics are preserved and mistakes are prevented. Anomalous foetuses must be detected at the earliest possible time to enable an appropriate medical intervention prior to the 120th day.
PMCID: PMC3943453  PMID: 24499356
Abortion; Ensoulment; Islam; Glorious Qur’an; Termination of pregnancy; TOP
16.  Contemporary issues concerning informed consent in Japan based on a review of court decisions and characteristics of Japanese culture 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:8.
Since Japan adopted the concept of informed consent from the West, its inappropriate acquisition from patients in the Japanese clinical setting has continued, due in part to cultural aspects. Here, we discuss the current status of and contemporary issues surrounding informed consent in Japan, and how these are influenced by Japanese culture.
Current legal norms towards informed consent and information disclosure are obscure in Japan. For instance, physicians in Japan do not have a legal duty to inform patients of a cancer diagnosis. To gain a better understanding of these issues, we present five court decisions related to informed consent and information disclosure. We then discuss Japanese culture through reviews of published opinions and commentaries regarding how culture affects decision making and obtaining informed consent. We focus on two contemporary problems involving informed consent and relevant issues in clinical settings: the misuse of informed consent and persistence in obtaining consent. For the former issue, the phrase "informed consent" is often used to express an opportunity to disclose medical conditions and recommended treatment choices. The casual use of the expression "informed consent" likely reflects deep-rooted cultural influences. For the latter issue, physicians may try to obtain a signature by doing whatever it takes, lacking a deep understanding of important ethical principles, such as protecting human dignity, serving the patient’s best interest, and doing no harm in decision-making for patients.
There is clearly a misunderstanding of the concept of informed consent and a lack of complete understanding of ethical principles among Japanese healthcare professionals. Although similar in some respects to informed consent as it originated in the United States, our review makes it clear that informed consent in Japan has clear distinguishing features.
Japanese healthcare professionals should aim to understand the basic nature of informed consent, irrespective of their attitudes about individualism, liberalism, and patient self-determination. If they believe that the concept of informed consent is important and essential in Japanese clinical settings, efforts should be made to obtain informed consent in an appropriate manner.
PMCID: PMC3923408  PMID: 24495473
Informed consent; Japanese culture; Ethical principles; Ethical issues; Misuse; Healthcare professionals
17.  Procedures of recruiting, obtaining informed consent, and compensating research participants in Qatar: findings from a qualitative investigation 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:9.
Very few researchers have reported on procedures of recruiting, obtaining informed consent, and compensating participants in health research in the Arabian Gulf Region. Empirical research can inform the debate about whether to adjust these procedures for culturally diverse settings. Our objective was to delineate procedures related to recruiting, obtaining informed consent, and compensating health research participants in the extremely high-density multicultural setting of Qatar.
During a multistage mixed methods project, field observations and qualitative interviews were conducted in a general medicine clinic of a major medical center in Qatar. Participants were chosen based on gender, age, literacy, and preferred language, i.e., Arabic, English, Hindi and Urdu. Qualitative analysis identified themes about recruitment, informed consent, compensation, and other research procedures.
A total of 153 individuals were approached and 84 enrolled; the latter showed a diverse age range (18 to 75 years); varied language representation: Arabic (n = 24), English (n = 20), Hindi (n = 20), and Urdu (n = 20); and balanced gender distribution: women (n = 43) and men (n = 41). Primary reasons for 30 declinations included concern about interview length and recording. The study achieved a 74% participation rate. Qualitative analytics revealed key themes about hesitation to participate, decisions about participation with family members as well as discussions with them as “incidental research participants”, the informed consent process, privacy and gender rules of the interview environment, reactions to member checking and compensation, and motivation for participating. Vulnerability emerged as a recurring issue throughout the process among a minority of participants.
This study from Qatar is the first to provide empirical data on recruitment, informed consent, compensation and other research procedures in a general adult population in the Middle East and Arabian Gulf. This investigation illustrates how potential research participants perceive research participation. Fundamentally, Western ethical research principles were applicable, but required flexibility and culturally informed adaptations.
PMCID: PMC3937123  PMID: 24495499
Research ethics; Recruitment; Informed consent; Cultural competence; Middle East; Research participation; Vulnerability; Confidentiality; Qualitative research; Research compensation
18.  Policy recommendations for addressing privacy challenges associated with cell-based research and interventions 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:7.
The increased use of human biological material for cell-based research and clinical interventions poses risks to the privacy of patients and donors, including the possibility of re-identification of individuals from anonymized cell lines and associated genetic data. These risks will increase as technologies and databases used for re-identification become affordable and more sophisticated. Policies that require ongoing linkage of cell lines to donors’ clinical information for research and regulatory purposes, and existing practices that limit research participants’ ability to control what is done with their genetic data, amplify the privacy concerns.
To date, the privacy issues associated with cell-based research and interventions have not received much attention in the academic and policymaking contexts. This paper, arising out of a multi-disciplinary workshop, aims to rectify this by outlining the issues, proposing novel governance strategies and policy recommendations, and identifying areas where further evidence is required to make sound policy decisions. The authors of this paper take the position that existing rules and norms can be reasonably extended to address privacy risks in this context without compromising emerging developments in the research environment, and that exceptions from such rules should be justified using a case-by-case approach. In developing new policies, the broader framework of regulations governing cell-based research and related areas must be taken into account, as well as the views of impacted groups, including scientists, research participants and the general public.
This paper outlines deliberations at a policy development workshop focusing on privacy challenges associated with cell-based research and interventions. The paper provides an overview of these challenges, followed by a discussion of key themes and recommendations that emerged from discussions at the workshop. The paper concludes that privacy risks associated with cell-based research and interventions should be addressed through evidence-based policy reforms that account for both well-established legal and ethical norms and current knowledge about actual or anticipated harms. The authors also call for research studies that identify and address gaps in understanding of privacy risks.
PMCID: PMC3914710  PMID: 24485220
19.  Reviewer acknowledgement 2013 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:6.
Contributing reviewers
The Editors of BMC Medical Ethics would like to thank all our reviewers who have contributed to the journal in Volume 13 (2013).
PMCID: PMC3909321
20.  Is there a moral obligation to conceive children under the best possible conditions? A preliminary framework for identifying the preconception responsibilities of potential parents 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:5.
The preventative paradigm of preconception care is receiving increasing attention, yet its boundaries remain vague in three respects: temporally; agentially; and instrumentally. Crucially, it remains unclear just who is to be considered a ‘potential parent’, how soon they should take up preconception responsibilities, and how weighty their responsibilities should be.
In this paper, we argue that a normal potential parent of reasonable prudence has a moral duty to adequately optimize the conditions under which she or his reproductive partner will conceive, though a proportionality calculus calls for toleration of several forms of preconception behaviour that are non-ideal from the perspective of reproductive risk. We distinguish between five categories of potential parents to which different duties of preconception care should be ascribed. This framework is advanced to assign preconception care responsibilities with more precision than is often done in the current debate on preconception care. We conclude by applying our theoretical framework to three types of preconception care interventions: consumption of folic acid; keeping one’s weight under control; and engaging in preconception genetic screening. Our analysis shows that the literature on preconception care often glosses over crucial distinctions between different types of potential parents and uses a notion of preconception beneficence that may be overly demanding. Nevertheless, preconception moral duties will often be weighty and reluctance to accept such duties on account of the burden they impose do not warrant preconception insouciance.
To avoid misplaced responsibility ascriptions in the growing field of preconception care, distinctions must be made between different types of potential parents to whom different degrees of preconception responsibility apply. We present such a preliminary framework and bring it to bear on the cases of folic acid consumption, obesity and genetic testing.
PMCID: PMC3903016  PMID: 24450334
Preconception care; Beneficence; Folic acid; Obesity; Genetic testing
21.  “It’s my blood”: ethical complexities in the use, storage and export of biological samples: perspectives from South African research participants 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:4.
The use of biological samples in research raises a number of ethical issues in relation to consent, storage, export, benefit sharing and re-use of samples. Participant perspectives have been explored in North America and Europe, with only a few studies reported in Africa. The amount of research being conducted in Africa is growing exponentially with volumes of biological samples being exported from the African continent. In order to investigate the perspectives of African research participants, we conducted a study at research sites in the Western Cape and Gauteng, South Africa.
Data were collected using a semi-structured questionnaire that captured both quantitative and qualitative information at 6 research sites in South Africa. Interviews were conducted in English and Afrikaans. Data were analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Our study indicates that while the majority of participants were supportive of providing samples for research, serious concerns were voiced about future use, benefit sharing and export of samples. While researchers view the provision of biosamples as a donation, participants believe that they still have ownership rights and are therefore in favour of benefit sharing. Almost half of the participants expressed a desire to be re-contacted for consent for future use of their samples. Interesting opinions were expressed with respect to export of samples.
Eliciting participant perspectives is an important part of community engagement in research involving biological sample collection, export, storage and future use. A tiered consent process appears to be more acceptable to participants in this study. Eliciting opinions of researchers and research ethics committee (REC) members would contribute multiple perspectives. Further research is required to interrogate the concept of ownership and the consent process in research involving biological samples.
PMCID: PMC3909375  PMID: 24447822
22.  Patients’ perceived purpose of clinical informed consent: Mill’s individual autonomy model is preferred 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:2.
Although informed consent is an integral part of clinical practice, its current doctrine remains mostly a matter of law and mainstream ethics rather than empirical research. There are scarce empirical data on patients’ perceived purpose of informed consent, which may include administrative routine/courtesy gesture, simple honest permission, informed permission, patient-clinician shared decision-making, and enabling patient’s self decision-making. Different purposes require different processes.
We surveyed 488 adults who were planning to undergo or had recently undergone written informed consent-requiring procedures. Perceptions of informed consent purpose (from norm and current practice perspectives) were explored by asking respondents to rank (1 = most reflective) 10 randomly-presented statements: “meaningless routine”, “courtesy gesture” “litigation protection”, “take away compensation rights”, “inform patient’, “make sure patient understand”, “document patient’s decision”, “discover patient’s preferences”, “have shared decision”, and “help patient decide”.
Respondents’ mean (SD) age was 38.3 (12.5); 50.4% were males, 56.8% had ≥ college education, and 37.3% had undergone a procedure. From the norm perspective, the least reflective statement was “meaningless routine” (ranked 1–3 by 2.6% of respondents) and the most reflective statements were “help patient decide”, “make sure patient understand”, and “inform patient” (ranked 1–3 by 65%, 60%, and 48% of respondents with median [25%,75%] ranking scores of 2 [1,5], 3 [2,4], and 4 [2,5], respectively). Compared to their counterparts, males and pre-procedure respondents ranked “help patient decide” better, whereas females and post-procedure respondents ranked “inform patient” better (p = 0.007 to p < 0.001). Age was associated with better ranking of “help patient decide” and “make sure patient understand” statements (p < 0.001 and p = 0.002, respectively), which were ranked 1–3 by only 46% and 42% of respondents from the current practice perspective (median ranking score 4 [2,6], p < 0.001 vs. norm perspective for both).
1) the informed consent process is important to patients, however, patients vary in their views of its purpose with the dominant view being enabling patients’ self decision-making, 2) males, pre-procedure, and older patients more favor a self decision-making purpose, whereas females and post-procedure patients more favor an information disclosure purpose, and 3) more self decision-making and more effective information disclosure than is currently practiced are desired. An informed consent process consistent with Mill’s individual autonomy model may be suitable for most patients.
PMCID: PMC3897892  PMID: 24406020
Informed consent; Middle East; Norm perception; Current practice; Gender difference; Autonomy
23.  Information disclosure in clinical informed consent: “reasonable” patient’s perception of norm in high-context communication culture 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:3.
The current doctrine of informed consent for clinical care has been developed in cultures characterized by low-context communication and monitoring-style coping. There are scarce empirical data on patients’ norm perception of information disclosure in other cultures.
We surveyed 470 adults who were planning to undergo or had recently undergone a written informed consent-requiring procedure in a tertiary healthcare hospital in Saudi Arabia. Perceptions of norm and current practice were explored using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly agree with disclosure) and 30 information items in 7 domains: practitioners’ details, benefits, risks, complications’ management, available alternatives, procedure’s description, and post-procedure’s issues.
Respondents’ mean (SD) age was 38.4 (12.5); 50.2% were males, 57.2% had ≥ college education, and 37.9% had undergone a procedure. According to norm perception, strongly agree/agree responses ranged from 98.0% (major benefits) to 50.5% (assistant/trainee’s name). Overall, items related to benefits and post-procedure’s issues were ranked better (more agreeable) than items related to risks and available alternatives. Ranking scores were better in post-procedure respondents for 4 (13.3%) items (p < 0.001 to 0.001) and in males for 8 (26.7%) items (p = 0.008 to <0.001). Older age was associated with better ranking scores for 3 (10.0%) items and worse for one (p < 0.001 to 0.006). According to current practice perception, strongly agree/agree responses ranged from 93.3% (disclosure of procedure’s name) to 13.9% (lead practitioner’s training place), ranking scores were worse for all items compared to norm perception (p < 0.001), and post-procedure status, younger age, and lower educational level were associated with better ranking scores for 15 (50.0%), 12 (40.0%), and 4 (13.3%) items, respectively (p < 0.001 to 0.009).
1) even in an overall high-context communication culture, extensive and more information than is currently disclosed is perceived as norm, 2) the focus of the desired information is closer to benefits and post-procedure’s issues than risks and available alternatives, 3) male, post-procedure, and older patients are in favor of more information disclosure, 4) male, older, and more educated patients may be particularly dissatisfied with current information disclosure. The focus and extent of information disclosure for clinical informed consent may need to be adjusted if a “reasonable” patient’s standard is to be met.
PMCID: PMC3930349  PMID: 24406055
Clinical informed consent; Middle East; Information disclosure; Norm perception; Current practice; Gender; Age; High-context communication; Blunting-style coping; Reasonable patient’s standard
24.  To evaluate the effectiveness of health care ethics consultation based on the goals of health care ethics consultation: a prospective cohort study with randomization 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:1.
The growing prevalence of health care ethics consultation (HCEC) services in the U.S. has been accompanied by an increase in calls for accountability and quality assurance, and for the debates surrounding why and how HCEC is evaluated. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of HCEC as indicated by several novel outcome measurements in East Asian medical encounters.
Patients with medical uncertainty or conflict regarding value-laden issues, and requests made by the attending physicians or nurses for HCEC from December 1, 2009 to April 30, 2012 were randomly assigned to the usual care group (UC group) and the intervention group (HCEC group). The patients in the HCEC group received HCEC conducted by an individual ethics consultant. Data analysis was based on the intention-to-treat principle. Mann–Whitney test and Chi-squared test were used depending on the scale of measurement.
Thirty-three patients (53.23%) were randomly assigned to the HCEC group and 29 patients were randomly assigned to the UC group. Among the 33 patients in the HCEC group, two (6.06%) of them ultimately did not receive a HCEC service. Among the 29 patients in the UC group, four (13.79%) of them received a HCEC service. The survival rate at hospital discharge did not differ between the two groups. Patients in the HCEC group showed significant reductions in the entire ICU stay and entire hospital stay. HCEC significantly facilitated achieving the goal of medical care (p < .01). Furthermore, patients in the HCEC group had a shorter ICU stay and shorter hospital stay after the occurrence of medical uncertainty or conflict regarding value-laden issues than those in the UC group.
Our findings demonstrated that HCEC were associated with reduced consumption of medical resources as indicated by shorter entire ICU stay, entire hospital stay, and shorter ICU and hospital stay after the occurrence of the medical uncertainty or conflict regarding value-laden issues. This study also showed that HCEC facilitated achieving a consensus regarding the goal of medical care, which conforms to the goal of HCEC.
PMCID: PMC3898237  PMID: 24387594
Health care ethics consultation; Effectiveness; Randomization; Intention-to-treat
25.  What is personalized medicine: sharpening a vague term based on a systematic literature review 
BMC Medical Ethics  2013;14:55.
Recently, individualized or personalized medicine (PM) has become a buzz word in the academic as well as public debate surrounding health care. However, PM lacks a clear definition and is open to interpretation. This conceptual vagueness complicates public discourse on chances, risks and limits of PM. Furthermore, stakeholders might use it to further their respective interests and preferences. For these reasons it is important to have a shared understanding of PM. In this paper, we present a sufficiently precise as well as adequate definition of PM with the potential of wide acceptance.
For this purpose, in a first step a systematic literature review was conducted to understand how PM is actually used in scientific practice. PubMed was searched using the keywords “individualized medicine”, “individualised medicine”, “personalized medicine” and “personalised medicine” connected by the Boolean operator OR. A data extraction tabloid was developed putting forward a means/ends-division. Full-texts of articles containing the search terms in title or abstract were screened for definitions. Definitions were extracted; according to the means/ends distinction their elements were assigned to the corresponding category. To reduce complexity of the resulting list, summary categories were developed inductively from the data using thematic analysis. In a second step, six well-known criteria for adequate definitions were applied to these categories to derive a so-called precising definition.
We identified 2457 articles containing the terms PM in title or abstract. Of those 683 contained a definition of PM and were thus included in our review. 1459 ends and 1025 means were found in the definitions. From these we derived the precising definition: PM seeks to improve stratification and timing of health care by utilizing biological information and biomarkers on the level of molecular disease pathways, genetics, proteomics as well as metabolomics.
Our definition includes the aspects that are specific for developments labeled as PM while, on the other hand, recognizing the limits of these developments. Furthermore, it is supported by the quantitative analysis of PM definitions in the literature, which suggests that it it is widely acceptable and thus has the potential to avoid the above mentioned issues.
PMCID: PMC3878093  PMID: 24359531
Biomarkers; Conceptual vagueness; Definition; Individualized medicine; Stratification; Timing

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