but “should not weigh in the judgment of IRBs regarding the balance of risks and potential benefits to the participants” (2001:74). A similar approach should be taken regarding benefits studies offer to participants’ relatives or other caregivers.

It is generally agreed that items such as financial incentives and reimbursement for transportation and other costs associated with research participation should not be considered benefits to participants. If payments were allowed to count as benefits, then a high payment could offset serious and otherwise unacceptable risks to participants (NBAC, 2001:74).

The evaluation of a study’s potential benefits should also consider its possible benefits to society. Evaluating possible societal benefits involves scrutinizing study design, personnel, and other factors affecting the quality of information collected. Because poorly designed or conducted studies will not yield valid and reliable data, they fail to offer benefits to others. Involving people in low-quality studies imposes burdens and risks on them without an adequate social justification. Thus, investigators must propose, and IRBs must demand, studies that meet the relevant scientific standards. When studies are not expected to undergo rigorous peer review as part of the funding process, investigators and IRBs have a responsibility to obtain such a review (Office of Protection from Research Risks, 1993:4–11).

Another dimension of research benefit to others concerns the importance of the research aim. This dimension of research value has received relatively little attention in research ethics analysis, but it deserves more serious consideration. In elder abuse and neglect studies, as in all human research, there must be a good reason for exposing research participants to inconveniences, burdens, and possible harms. Investigators should be able to show why the specific study problem is socially significant and how information gained from the study will help address the problem (NBAC, 2001:73). For example, studies proposing to test minor variations in existing health or social service interventions might hold little prospect of material benefit to others.5

Potential Harms in Research

As noted above, the Belmont Report lists the following as risks to research participants: “psychological harm, physical harm, legal harm, social harm, and economic harm” (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1979:7). More recently, the NBAC elaborated on these concepts. Included as physical

5  

An analogy would be clinical trials on so-called “me-too” drugs (Angell, 2000).



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