Bioethics Blogs

IRBs Ignore South Africans’ Concerns

Leslie London and Helen Macdonald, both of the University of Cape Town, complain that funding institutions in North America and Europe solicited their advice but then showed “little regard for local ethical practices in South Africa.”

[Leslie London and Helen Macdonald, “Transnational Excursions: The Ethics of Northern Anthropological Investigations Going South,” ResearchGate, 2014.]

London and Macdonald discuss two cases in which northern-hemisphere researchers planned to research South Africa health care with little advance preparation. They do not claim that the approved projects endangered specific participants. Rather, they argue that

there are concerns that enter into the ethical assessment of research other than the well-being of participants. These relate, for example, to the very choice of the research question, and the relative distribution of burdens and benefits. Further, in global health research power imbalances between researchers and their institutions often play out, particularly where southern colleagues are recruited to justify large multicentre collaborative grants. How to moderate such power relations has emerged as an important source of debate, spawning an entire literature on “International Health Research Ethics”. Some of the issues relevant to this form of considering power relate to challenges such as data ownership, ownership and appreciation of intellectual capital, respect for local institutional systems and capacity building of local partners. [Citations omitted.]

The two studies, they feel, ignored these broader concerns. They describe one as “‘parachute research’ ‘in which a foreign PhD student swans into a country to conduct a study and disappears after getting local informants to agree to share data that no-one else can provide to the researcher.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.