The principle of research ethics has three fundamental principles: respect for participants, beneficence, and justice. ‘Respect for participants’ or ‘autonomy of research subjects’ refers to considering the two elements that a researcher must keep in mind while dealing with research subjects. The first one is to treat the research subjects as autonomous, and the second is to protect the people with diminished autonomy. Beneficence refers to the act that aims to benefit others.
There are two different ways to do it. The first is to stop doing the actions that may harm others. The second is to repeat things that maximize the benefits but minimize the risks for participants. The third and last principle of research ethics is to promote the concept of fairness in the research community. Justice in respecting research subjects refers to fairness in the recruitment of participants and selection of location for conducting a trial.
1. Justice- As a principle of research ethics:
The principle of research ethics deals with all issues related to who will be benefited from research or who bears the risk of research in ‘Justice.’ In simple, it acts as a framework to guide that helps make decisions reasonable and fair. It suggests that researchers select the participants only based on whether they suit your inclusion criteria or for being a part of a population. Moreover, giving equal rights to all individuals to participate in a study voluntarily is a prime focus of the principle of justice in research ethics.
2. Beneficence- As a principle of research ethics:
The social act of benefiting others on your personal needs is termed altruism, or here the term ‘beneficence’ describes the same concept. It is essential, especially in health care sciences, such as in experiments confirming the side effects of newly formulated medicines. The first point of this principle states that the participants must not get harm after becoming a part of your experiment. Likewise, the second part is to maximize the benefits and minimize the risk for participants. For example, during the trial phase of Covid vaccination, this principle suggests researchers only try the vaccine on humans after being tried on the animal models. The human trial after animal trial reduces the risk for humans and saves the participants from the attack of the novel coronavirus surviving in their locality.
3. Autonomy- As a principle of research ethics:
Before developing an understanding of the principle of autonomy of research subjects, it is essential to understand the meaning of the word ‘autonomy’ fully.
Another important but less common fundamental principle of research ethics is ‘non-maleficence’. Non-maleficence tells us which ways a researcher should opt to prevent participants from the potential harms of a study (wildly experimental trials involving humans).
3.1 What is autonomy?
The literal meaning of the word autonomy is ‘the liberty to follow one’s own will’. In more sophisticated words, autonomy is ‘personal freedom’. When someone acts autonomously, an individual’s actions are highly under his control.
The word ‘autonomy’ in respecting the research subjects (participants) depicts that a participant must participate in the research without any stress. Put another way, and the researcher must allow participants to make their own informed decision about whether they want to participate in the research. In addition to the participants’ will, a detailed discussion addressing all potential pros and cons related to the research must also be arranged to allow the participant to act autonomously.
3.2. Respect for autonomy:
Respect for autonomy is a moral principle. The respect for autonomy in research is essential due to two prominent reasons. First, an autonomous individual can best understand his interests and what he believes. It allows participants to consider every thick and thin regarding a research project before making any decision. Second, respecting autonomy is all about respecting humanity. Sometimes, it is an obligation to take the risk as a researcher, but it cannot be valid for the participants. A particular participant doesn’t need to participate in a study. Thus, the respect for the autonomy of research subjects emphasizes the right of participants that they can withdraw at any stage.
Furthermore, to respect the autonomy of research subjects, the researcher should ensure two things first, whether the situation is competent enough to get accept by the participant. Second, the situation or experimental circumstances must be free from overwhelming, irrational compulsion. The second one is the essence of the principle of respecting the autonomy of research subjects.
3.3: People with less developed decision-making skills must be protected:
The individuals who are not in a condition to make informed decisions or those who do not know what is good or bad for them are not supposed to be included in the research. Individuals with diminished autonomy refer to children with less developed Prefrontal cortex and hippocampus or adults with mental disorders. According to the ethical principle of respecting the autonomy of the research subject, researchers are obliged only to include participants in studies that are not autonomously diminished.
‘Principle of research ethics’ is a set of rules that allows researchers and participants to act safely, somewhat, and moral. It has three fundamental principles: beneficence, justice and autonomy of research subjects. All these principles protect the rights of participants in one or another way. At the same time, the principle of non-maleficence tells about how a researcher ought to avoid to minimise the harm of a study to the participants. Autonomy of research subjects or respect for autonomy makes it compulsory for the researchers to consider the concerns of participants and allow them to participate voluntarily. In addition, the researchers are also advise to discuss the potential harms of a study frankly. Telling the harms helps the researcher to decide whether they are ready to bear the loss or not.
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