Researches on vulnerable populations or about potentially upsetting or traumatic topics are complex and often tackle sensitive issues hence causing mixed reactions. In this regard, diverse ethical concerns often emerge for researchers conducting extensive researches on these areas. According to Israel and Hay “Vulnerable people cannot safeguard their rights and interests” (2006, p.71).
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Therefore, if people do not put proper measures in place, researches on vulnerable populations pose distinct risks. Most of them remain unknown or complex to vulnerable people. Vulnerable populations mostly comprise of physically handicapped people, educationally disadvantaged, mentally disabled, and economically disadvantaged (Abernathy & Azarnoff 1990, p. 91).
It, therefore, calls for a lot of emphasis on accountability in execution of diverse ethical researches. It also describes best practices in conducting researches for researchers as well as institutions. Moreover, the code specifies distinct responsibilities held by researchers as they conduct their studies.
The paper discusses the ethical concerns raised, how the ethical concerns arise, and how they may manifest themselves in research. Moreover, it points out the steps researchers must take in order to protect their respondents with distinct reference to children and individuals who engage in criminal activities.
Ethical concerns for researchers
There exist many ethical concerns for researchers involved in research on vulnerable populations or about potentially upsetting or traumatic topics. One of the utmost ethical concerns that arise when conducting these researches is confidentiality and anonymity.
Researchers experience significant dilemmas when addressing the privacy of people involved in the researches (Katz 1972, p. 26). Ensuring the privacy of all participants involved in these kinds of researches, who mainly comprise of vulnerable persons or people involved in traumatic scenarios, is a strenuous task. It requires the researchers to work assiduously towards meeting diverse requirements.
This calls for utmost care when addressing diverse issues affecting vulnerable people to avoid infringing on their rights as stipulated by the laws. According to Getz and Borfitz (2002, p. 38), vulnerable people include children, pregnant women, prisoners, racial minorities, neonates, Human fetuses, institutionalized, and extremely sick people.
Researches on vulnerable population involve obtaining data through interaction and intervention with individuals or intimate information from affected individuals. Consequently, these researches touch on intricate matters, which require a lot of caution when addressing them. If experts do not put appropriate measures in place, these researches will cause irreparable damages to vulnerable populations under study.
On the other hand, research about potentially traumatic or upsetting events may result into diverse pernicious effects to people’s lives if people do not put in place regulations on the way they ought to conduct them. In this regard, governments and other institutions all over the world have come up with diverse regulations that provide additional safeguards for how researchers conduct these researches.
In Australia, regulation of researches is of considerable essence. Therefore, usage of various regulations requires utmost considerations.
For instance, an extensive code referred to as “the Australian Code for Responsible Conduct of Research” (Geggie 2004, p, 345) influences and guides the way of managing and conducting researches. The Australian code guides researchers on how to respect autonomy and privacy of all research participants in order to eliminate infringement of their rights and encroachment on their private lives.
Moreover, informed consent is another main ethical concern for researchers involved in doing researches on vulnerable populations or about potentially upsetting or traumatic topics. As Edwards and Alldred (1999) point out, an “informed consent is paramount in conducting any research as it eliminates misunderstandings during the research process” (p. 265).
The main principles of informed consent revolve around informing participants of what research entails, the essence of their involvements, and what others expect of them during the research processes. An informed consent involves explicit acts, for instance having a written agreement with the participants.
In addition, participants must have a thorough understanding of what the research entails so that they can be able to make autonomous choices on whether they will participate in the research. More importantly, informed consent must be a voluntary endeavor devoid of coercion.
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As guidelines for conducting research in Australia recommend, any consent must be easily renegotiable as these enable participants to discuss easily in case they feel discontented with the progress of the research.
The ethical concerns of protecting the participants from harms that may result from the research also confront the researchers. Having safe and private location to conduct a research on contentious issues affecting the society is a prime concern for many researchers. The researches have to show that they have no egotistical objectives when conducting these researches.
According to Cashmore (2006), “…practices of breaching the confidentiality of participants in a research can have detrimental effects” (p.972). Compromising on confidentiality is tantamount to causing the failure of the research. Consequently, introducing an elaborate plan addressing privacy of vulnerable people involved in the researches is paramount in maintaining anonymity, as well as confidence of the participants.
The process of balancing the desire to protect research participants from potential harms posed by the research, while allowing the participants to benefit from the research results is overwhelming. As Spriggs (2007) reckons, “identifying main benefits as well as harms to research participants is a strenuous task to many researchers” (p. 18).
The code used in Australia clearly stipulates diverse responsibilities of researchers in addressing main issues in their researches. It is necessary for researchers to comply with the stipulated ethical principles of respect for participants, beneficence, integrity, and justice (Bessant 2006, p. 52).
The code provides guidelines for protecting animal and human participants used in diverse researches. The code also offers guidelines on the researchers’ rights available in the Australia law and advices researches on the way forward when confronted with research misconduct.
Another ethical concern for researchers is on the payment of the people who participate in their researches. As Kellet and Ding (2004, p. 168) point out, no definite or clear consensus exist on whether participants should receive any payment for their participation in the researches. Determining the rewards to offer to the participants is a paramount concern to the researchers.
Different groups that either oppose or support the payment of research participants are everywhere in the current world. As Hill (2005, p. 51) reckons, some researchers have negative views about participants payment terming it as an inducement or bribery, while others view payment of participants as a fair and justified recompense.
In Australia, this ethical issue is still a hot debate with both sides presenting valid arguments justifying their action concerning the remuneration of research participants.
How the ethical concerns arise and manifest themselves in research
In the majority of researches conducted on vulnerable populations or about potentially upsetting or traumatic topics, ethical concerns often arise due to Myriad factors. One key factor is choosing inappropriate place to meet the participants thus encroaching on their privacy leading to loss of confidentiality and autonomy.
This results from the failure of the researcher to identify a confidential location that is mutually agreeable by both the researcher and participants. Contacting the participant in locations, he or she feels uncomfortable leads to souring of the relationship between the two.
This ethical concern may manifest itself in the lack of participants, as many of them will be unwilling to engage in the research because their privacy inferred with rights.
In addition, the research might face legal obligations as participants can sue him or her because of infringing their rights by displaying vital information concerning their private lives. The code used in Australia stipulates that it is the responsibility of a researcher to manage storage and maintain confidentiality of data collected during the research.
The poor presentation of the researches is another factor that causes ethical concerns. As the participants are vulnerable and exposed to diverse challenges including physical and health challenges, poor dissemination or presentation of the research objectives is detrimental. For instance, meeting people with hearing disabilities in a noisy place drastically reduces their hearing abilities.
Moreover, use of complex terms to present the project limits understanding capabilities of vulnerable people especially those with disabilities. As Glannon (2005) reckons, “the ways researchers represent their researches is vital as it dictates the success of the research” (p.58).
The ethical issue of misinformed consent manifests itself in the research by inhibiting the success of the research, as many potential participants will be unwilling to give information that is vital in the execution of the project.
In addition, diverse conflicts may arise due to misunderstanding between the researcher and participants. This can have detrimental effects on the research, as its progress will come to a halt due to conflicts.
Failure to conduct an extensive study on the efficacy of remunerations in the research results in diverse challenges. Depending on the participants involved in the research, different remunerations play pivotal roles in the success of the project. Thus, it is imperative for the researcher to conduct an extensive study to determine the most appropriate approach to use when remunerating participants in his or her research.
In some instances, using coercion results in a lot of criticism from stakeholders especially those who view it as unprofessional method of conducting research. However, others do not oppose coercion and view it as a way of attaining the main objectives of the research. This can result to reduced participation in the research.
Steps researchers must take to protect their respondents
The inclusion of vulnerable persons including children, people engaged in legal activities, and comatose or traumatized persons and use of potentially upsetting or traumatic topics in researches calls for usage of effective steps that will protect research respondents. We as researchers must practice a lot of caution when using children and people engaged in illegal activities to avoid infringing their rights.
The first step is to offer extensive training to the respondents on how to conduct themselves during the entire research process. The research should strive to ensure the provision of proper training to all the respondents prior to the commencement of the research. When using children, it is imperative to ensure that the children receive ample training concerning their role, as well as the essence of the research (Ellman 1992, p.64).
On the other hand, when using people who have engaged in illegal activities as your respondents, it is essential to advise them on how to answer questions posed during the research. This is important because some questions answered by the respondents might come in handy in a legal system upon the breaching of their confidentiality in the research.
More importantly, using natural language is essential in ensuring that the respondents do not give unnecessary information during the research. Protecting children used as respondents by using straightforward language to ask questions is an effective way of eliminating breach of confidentiality.
In addition, mentoring the respondents as they engage in the research is paramount as it provides effective adherence to research ethics and ensures full protection of respondents from diverse harms that the research might pose. Research ethics are paramount, as they set principles of wrong or right research conduct. They reflect diverse epistemological paradigms and practices within specific cultural or social contexts.
Giving participants ample time to make autonomous and informed decisions on whether to get involved in the research is significant, as it will help in identifying an honest group that is ready to get involved in all aspects of the research and avoid unnecessary commotions. This will aid in mitigating diverse challenges involved in the researches thus protecting the respondents.
Therefore, based on the diverse expositions discussed in this essay, it suffices to posit that the governing of research on vulnerable persons or about potentially upsetting or traumatic topics is paramount in ensuring that no abuses of human rights occur.
A research devoid of informed and detailed consent is a failure, as it will raise many ethical concerns because it will encroach on rights and private lives of vulnerable persons. Adequately weighing all the risks and benefits related to research is paramount in ensuring its success.
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