Ethical tensions in the informed consent process for randomized clinical trials in emergency obstetric and newborn care in low and middle-income countries

Ethical tensions in the informed consent process for randomized clinical trials in emergency obstetric and newborn care in low and middle-income countries
Dan K. Kaye, Gershom Chongwe, Nelson K. Sewankambo
BMC Medical Ethics, 27 April 2019; (20)27
Abstract
Background
There is unanimous agreement regarding the need to ethically conduct research for improving therapy for patients admitted to hospital with acute conditions, including in emergency obstetric care. We present a conceptual analysis of ethical tensions inherent in the informed consent process for randomized clinical trials for emergency obstetric care and suggest ways in which these could be mitigated.
Discussion
A valid consenting process, leading to an informed consent, is a cornerstone of this aspect necessary for preservation and maintenance of respect for autonomy and dignity. In emergency obstetric care research, obtaining informed consent can be problematic, leading to ethical tension between different moral considerations. Potential participants may be vulnerable due to severity of disease, powerlessness or impaired decisional capacity. Time for the consent process is limited, and some interventions have a narrow therapeutic window. These factors create ethical tension in allowing potentially beneficial research while avoiding potential harms and maintaining respect for dignity, human rights, justice and autonomy of the participants.
Conclusion
Informed consent in emergency obstetric care in low- and middle-income countries poses numerous ethical challenges. Allowing research on vulnerable populations while maintaining respect for participant dignity and autonomy, protecting participants from potential harms and promoting justice underlie the ethical tensions in the research in emergency obstetric and newborn care. Those involved in research conduct or oversight have a duty of fair inclusion, to avoid denying participants the right to participate and to any potential research benefits.

Editor’s note: The authors mentions sub-Sharan Africa as an example of the LMICs they are referring to in this article.

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