Ethical Issues in Qualitative Research
Ethical issues are present in any kind of research. The research process creates tension between the aims of research to make generalizations for the good of others, and the rights of participants to maintain privacy. Ethics pertains to doing well and avoiding harm. Harm can be prevented or reduced through the application of appropriate ethical principles. Thus, the protection of human subjects or participants in any research study is imperative. Violations of human rights in the name of scientific research have been among the darkest events in history. From 1932-1972 more than 400 African American people who had syphilis were deliberately left untreated to study the illness. Although the Tuskegee syphilis study was sponsored by United States Public Health Service, the disclosure of the 40-year study caused public outrage (Caplan, 1992). Another example of unethical research is the experiment conducted between 1950-1952 in which more than 1,000 pregnant women were given diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriages. These women were subject to a double-blind study without consent. Only 20 years later, when the children of these women had high rates of cancer and other abnormalities did the participants learn they were subjects of these experiments(Capron, 1989).
The nature of ethical problems in qualitative research studies is subtle and different compared to problems in quantitative research. For example, potential ethical conflicts exist in regard to how a researcher gains access to a community group and in the effects the researcher may have on participants. The literature provides few examples of ethical issues in qualitative health research. Punch (1994) claimed that one hardly ever hears of ethical failures in qualitative research. However, Batchelor and Briggs (1994) claimed that the failure of researchers to address ethical issues has resulted in those researchers being ill-prepared to cope with the unpredictable nature of qualitative research.
Qualitative researchers focus their research on exploring, examining, and describing people and their natural environments. Embedded in qualitative research are the concepts of relationships and power between researchers and participants. The desire to participate in a research study depends upon a participant’s willingness to share his or her experience. Nurse researchers have to balance research principles as well as the well-being of clients (Ramos, 1989). Qualitative health research is focused on the experiences of people in relation to health and illness. Yet nurse researchers may find that their roles as researchers and as clinicians may be in conflict. Qualitative studies are frequently conducted in settings involving the participation of people in their everyday environments. Therefore, any research that includes people requires an awareness of the ethical issues that may be derived from such interactions. Ethics in health research includes appropriateness of the research design, the methodological design, and the funding sources, as well as behaviors in reporting data. The purpose of this paper is to show these and related ethical issues and ethical principles to be used in qualitative research.
When preparing research protocols, researchers should consider the potential ethical issues that can be anticipated in the study, such as informed consent, confidentiality, data generation and analysis, researcher/ participant relationships, and reporting of final outcomes. The Process of Data Collection
The purpose of qualitative studies is to describe a phenomenon from the participants’ points of view through interviews and observations. The intention of the researcher is to listen to the voice of participants or observe them in their natural environments. The researcher’s interpretation of these experiences is usually described as an emic perspective (Field & Morse, 1992). The acceptance of this statement...
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