Ethical conflicts during the social study of clinical practice: the need to reassess the mutually challenging research ethics traditions of social scientists and medical researchers

Clinical Ethics 1 (1):41-45 (2006)
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When anthropologists and other social scientists study health services in medical institutions, tensions sometimes arise as a result of the social scientists and health care professionals having different ideas about the ethics of research. In order to resolve this type of conflict and to facilitate mutual learning, we describe two general categories of research ethics framing: those of anthropology and those of medicine. The latter focuses on protection of the individual through the preservation of autonomy expressed through the requirement of informed consent whereas the former focuses on broader political implications. After providing an example of a conflict, we outline four issues that characterize the occasional clashes between social scientists and medical staff: (1) a discrepancy in the way anthropologists perceive patients and medical staff; (2) ambiguity concerning the role of medical staff in anthropological research; (3) impediments to informed consent in qualitative research projects; and (4) property rights in data. Enhanced dialogue could serve to invigorate the ethical debate in both traditions



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