Ethical Considerations in Social Sciences: The Dilemmas of Informed Consent

Ethical Considerations in Social Sciences: The Dilemmas of Informed Consent
Haji Karim Khan, Hussain, Mir Alam
Research Journal of Social Sciences & Economics Review, April-June 2021; 2(2)
Open Access
Informed consent is an integral component of research ethics in Social Sciences. It has been observed that in Pakistan, most of the research ethics have been borrowed from the Western context. Therefore, it is vital to see how research ethics are being construed and practiced in Pakistan having different socio-cultural values and norms. In the case of informed consent, the bigger question is ‘how informed the informed consent is?’ Thus, in this paper, through a qualitative exploratory approach, we have explored how active Social Science researchers in our universities, see the notion of informed consent. We interviewed eighteen university teachers for the study. Transcribed the interviews verbatim and analyzed those using robust qualitative approaches. Findings show that ‘informed consent’ becomes a dilemma for the researchers given the variations in the socio-cultural and linguistic contexts of the settings. Findings have pertinent implications for policymakers, university management, and researchers in the context of Social Sciences.

Implementing continuous consent in qualitative research

Implementing continuous consent in qualitative research
Research Article
Fride Haram Klykken
Qualitative Research, 9 May 2021
This article examines ways of approaching informed consent as a relationally constituted process in qualitative research practices. It argues that a researcher’s operationalization of informed consent should be coherent with the overall epistemological framework of the project. Based on empirical examples from an ethnographic inquiry in an educational setting, the principle of informed consent is discussed as a reflexive and ethical tool throughout the inquiry, including its pre-fieldwork, fieldwork and post-fieldwork phases. Strategies of explicitly and implicitly (re)negotiated consent and dissent are discussed and illustrated by drawing on some of the recent discussions of continuous consent practices. The article’s conceptualization of a continuous, situated and relational approach to informed consent is also supported by the concepts of response-ability and thinking with care in research ethics.

Is the Language of Informed Consent Templates for Dental Treatment Patient Friendly?

Is the Language of Informed Consent Templates for Dental Treatment Patient Friendly?
Viktoriia Kostenko, Olena Bieliaieva, Iryna Solohor
Eurasian Conference on Language & Social Sciences, 2-3 February 2021; Gjakova, Kosovo pp 324-328
The patient’s voluntary informed consent for medical intervention has been known as an integral part of the modern system of moral, ethical and legal regulation of healthcare provision. Grammar complexity of formal language and terminology differences between healthcare providers and patients may cause communication problems and adversely affect patient access to health information, leading to poor satisfaction for both parties. There have been few reports clarifying the selection of the language means in order to facilitate patients’ complete and unhindered understanding of
the information in informed consent template for dental treatment and to influence them in making the right decision. The aim of the study is to investigate grammar characteristics (sentence structure, voice, the tense and aspect of finite verb phrases) and to analyze the findings from functional perspective and communicative purposes. This empirical research of qualitative descriptive type was based on the corpus of 50 informed consent templates for dental treatment used by the USA healthcare settings authorized to provide oral and dental services Critical discourse analysis is a main analytic technique employed in the study. The main idea behind the informed consent is that individuals having obtained a sufficient amount of special information and clearly understood it should be able to make their own knowledgeable and voluntary decisions concerning the exposure to potentially dangerous dental procedures. Text structuring, headings, metatextual devices in the templates demonstrate doctor’s responsibility for understanding text by the patients, i.e. the respectful and careful attitude to the clients. The average length of the texts and the average length of the sentences are also taken into account, whereas the documents are designed within the patient-centred approach and in patient-friendly manner. Though the texts of informed consent templates are relatively short, they abound in composite sentences: the complex sentences make up 69.3 %, the complex-compound sentences make up to 7.14%. Simple sentences, 21.5%, rank the second position. Composite sentences as well as numerous simple sentences with extended homogenous parts are exploited in the informed consent templates in order to minimize misunderstanding in the interpretation medical information, but, on the other hand, they can to interfere with quick and complete comprehension of the dependency relations among the ideas expressed in the sentences. Sentences in the active voice exceed those in passive voice that makes the text more readable and understandable.

“Why didn’t we do it”? Reproductive loss and the problem of post-mortem consent

“Why didn’t we do it”? Reproductive loss and the problem of post-mortem consent
Kate Reed, Maria Teresa Ferazzoli, Elspeth Whitby
Social Science & Medicine, 12 March 2021
Informed consent has been a much debated topic within the social sciences. It often forms a central feature of discussions on research in medical settings and in social research methods more broadly. While sympathetic to its’ underlying principles of autonomy and choice, social scientists have tended to argue that these are seldom enacted in research or clinical practice. Rather, such principles are often circumscribed by wider social structures and by a culture of medical dominance. Drawing on data from a qualitative study on perinatal post-mortem, this paper explores informed consent in the emotionally charged clinical arena of perinatal pathology. Our in-depth analysis will provide fresh insight into post-mortem decision-making in the sensitive arena of baby loss. Our findings show how parents often found it difficult to give consent for post-mortem, and also for professionals to take consent from parents. It was also not uncommon for parents to experience regret over non-consent later on. One of our key findings, however, related to the sense of emotional and diagnostic closure often afforded by post-mortem when consent had been given. We conclude by arguing that, although we cannot resolve the tension between the principles of consent and their enactment in practice, we can develop a reflexive approach with which to navigate the process. In doing so, the paper contributes to wider sociological discussions on the meaning and use of informed consent in various settings beyond medical contexts.

A Qualitative Analysis of Ethical Perspectives on Recruitment and Consent for Human Intracranial Electrophysiology Studies

A Qualitative Analysis of Ethical Perspectives on Recruitment and Consent for Human Intracranial Electrophysiology Studies
Joncarmen V. Mergenthaler, Winston Chiong, Daniel Dohan, Josh Feler, Cailin R. Lechner, Philip A. Starr, Jalayne J. Arias
AJOB Neuroscience, 2 February 2021; pp 57-67
Intracranial electrophysiological research methods, including those applying electrodes on the cortical surface or in deep structures, have become increasingly important in human neuroscience. They also pose novel ethical concerns, as human studies require the participation of neurological patients undergoing surgery for conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Research participants in this setting may be vulnerable to conflicts of interest, therapeutic misconception, and other threats to valid recruitment and consent. We conducted semi-structured interviews with investigators from NIH-funded studies involving recording or stimulation inside the human skull. We elicited perspectives on study recruitment and consent procedures, and analyzed transcripts using a modified grounded theory approach. We interviewed 26 investigators from 19 separate intracranial electrophysiology studies, who described two study types: opportunity studies (n = 15) and experimental trials (n = 4). Respondents described significant heterogeneity in recruitment and consent procedures, even among studies employing similar techniques. In some studies, clinician-investigators were specifically barred from obtaining consent, while in other studies clinician-investigators were specifically required to obtain consent; regulatory guidance was inconsistent. Respondents also described various models for subject selection, the timing of consent, and continuing consent for temporally extended studies. Respondents expressed ethical concerns about participants’ vulnerability and the communication of research-related risks. We found a lack of consensus among investigators regarding recruitment and consent methods in human intracranial electrophysiology. This likely reflects the novelty and complexity of such studies and indicates a need for further discussion and development of best practices in this research domain.

Ethical review and informed consent guidelines of high impact anthropology, business, and education research journals

Ethical review and informed consent guidelines of high impact anthropology, business, and education research journals
Original Article
Antti Mikael Rousi
Learned Publishing, 11 January 2021
Whereas participant protection protocols are norms in medical research, they are only recently being adopted in social and behavioural sciences. This study examined human subject guidelines in the top 40 high‐impact anthropology, business, and education research journals according to their impact factor as released in 2019. For these 120 journals, a unified classification framework was developed to capture the central elements of their ethical review and informed consent requirements. The findings suggest that the investigated journals do not view ethical review as an established norm for interview and survey studies. Only 10 (8%) journals required ethical review from all studies involving human participants. Informed consent was more frequently addressed, but none of the fields exhibited widely established guidelines similar to medical research journals. A total of 31 (26%) journals required informed consent from all studies involving human participants. There was little difference between the three disciplines investigated. Although the investigated journals represented social and behavioural sciences, their guidelines often concerned medical or intervention research with few requirements for interaction (e.g. survey) research. There is an opportunity for high‐impact journals to establish norms for adoption by researchers and other journals.

Evaluating survey consent to social media linkage in three international health surveys

Evaluating survey consent to social media linkage in three international health surveys
Zeina N. Mneimneh, Ronny Bruffarets, Yasmin A. Altwaijri, Colleen McClain
Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, 10 August 2020
The use of Twitter data for health-related research has been increasing over time. While the organic nature of the data offer new opportunities, the limited understanding of how and by whom the data are generated poses a challenge for advancing health-related research. Individual-level data linkage could shed light into the data generation mechanism.
This paper investigates whether consent to link survey data with Twitter public data is associated with socio-demographic and Twitter use pattern factors and whether consenters and non-consenters differ on health-related outcomes.
Data from three health related surveys that use probability samples of the target population were used: 1) A college population web survey in KU Leuven University, 2) An adult population web survey of the US population, and 3) A population face-to-face survey in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In all surveys, respondents reported whether they have a Twitter account, and Twitter users were asked to provide consent for linking their survey responses to their public Twitter data.
Consent rate estimates from the two web surveys in Belgium and the US were 24% and 27% respectively. The face-to-face survey in KSA yielded a higher consent rate of 45%. In general, respondent’s sociodemographic characteristics were not significantly associated with consent to link. However, more use of social media and reporting sensitive information in the survey were found to be significantly correlated with higher consent. Consenters and non-consenter were not found to be statistically different on any of the health related measures.
Very few differences were found between those who consented to link their survey data with their Twitter public data and those who did not. Modifiable design variables need to be investigated to maximize consent while maintaining balance between consenters and non-consenters.

Ethics and access when consent must come first [BOOK CHAPTER]

Ethics and access when consent must come first [BOOK CHAPTER]
Hugh Busher, Alison Fox
Implementing Ethics in Educational Ethnography
Taylor & Francis, 2019; Chapter 4
Open Access
Formalised procedures to obtain and document informed consent from research participants are at the heart of the shift from informal to formalised research ethics. Critiques claim that the requirements to obtain consent from all potential participants before the onset of a study will make it impossible to do ethnographic research and participant observation in institutional settings such as schools. Drawing on experiences from an ethnographic research project in secondary schools in Norway, the aim of this chapter is to discuss the ethical considerations and, embedded in these, the methodological and analytical challenges involved in doing participant observation in schools where not all pupils and parents have consented to participation in the research. The chapter suggests possible ways forward for tackling these challenges for ethnographic researchers working in schools.

Automating dynamic consent decisions for the processing of social media data in health research

Automating dynamic consent decisions for the processing of social media data in health research
Chris Norval, Tristan Henderson
Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, September 2019
Open Access
Social media have become a rich source of data, particularly in health research. Yet, the use of such data raises significant ethical questions about the need for the informed consent of those being studied. Consent mechanisms, if even obtained, are typically broad and inflexible, or place a significant burden on the participant. Machine learning algorithms show much promise for facilitating a ‘middle ground approach: using trained models to predict and automate granular consent decisions. Such techniques, however, raise a myriad of follow-on ethical and technical considerations. In this paper, we present an exploratory user study (n = 67) in which we find that we can predict the appropriate flow of health-related social media data with reasonable accuracy, while minimising undesired data leaks. We then attempt to deconstruct the findings of this study, identifying and discussing a number of real-world implications if such a technique were put into practice.

What Qualitative Researchers Must Do When Ethical Assurances Disintegrate? Recognise Internal Confidentiality, Establish Process Consent, Reference Groups, Referrals for Participants and a Safety Plan [Conference Paper]

What Qualitative Researchers Must Do When Ethical Assurances Disintegrate? Recognise Internal Confidentiality, Establish Process Consent, Reference Groups, Referrals for Participants and a Safety Plan [Conference Paper]
Martin Tolich
World Conference on Qualitative Research, 17 September 2019
Informed consent and confidentiality are the two mainstays of qualitative research ethics, yet they have a propensity to disintegrate in an emergent, iterative research design. This chapter examines how to approach this uncharted territory by having researchers take full responsibility for ethical considerations by using more robust forms of consent like process consent; recognising the dual faces of confidentiality, distinguishing external confidentiality from internal confidentiality. Other responsibilities in post ethics review environment include recognising and addressing big ethical moments. At times, participants and researchers ethical protections disintegrate too. When participants are at risk, furnish referrals (i.e. suicide watch phone numbers). When researchers are at risk work off a safety plan. Additionally, given this unpredictability, researchers should create a standing reference group to assist answering the fourth question above: what to do when the project raises ethical questions not foreseen in formal ethics review or by the researcher.