Bioethics Blogs

The ‘P’ Word: Hospital Ethics Committees and Palestinian National Identity by Guy Shalev

Anthropologists like to tell their stories of ‘entering the field,’ whether they are left alone on a tropical beach as their dinghy sails away (Malinowski 1922) or run away from the police into a local’s courtyard (Geertz 1973). These stories are often told to show us, their readers, the distance anthropologists must travel from their own worlds into those of their research subjects. If stories traditionally fall within the thriller or adventure genres, my own is rather more Kafkaesque. And much like the stories from The Trial and The Castle, it is more about the system in which my interlocutors and I live than our own personal stories.

It took me more than six months to get my research with Palestinian physicians approved in two large Israeli hospitals. In a third hospital my access was denied. My ‘entry story’ is thus about my repeated attempts to obtain the approval of three Helsinki Committees (HCs, Israeli hospitals’ research ethics committees) to conduct ethnographic research with Palestinian physicians in Israeli public hospitals. While my research was eventually approved in two of these institutions, correspondence with HC representatives, as well as evidence of their informal moves with institutions’ management, reflect their perceptions of the risk my study posed.

I had already passed the University of North Carolina’s meticulous ethical approval process, and so the very different response of Israeli committees left me bewildered. Had the UNC’s committee overlooked important risks? In fact, the discrepancies between these committees calls into question the very idea of a universal ethical code of research conduct, as the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki aimed to establish.

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.