Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Research Ethics Criticized

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org

RESEARCH ETHICS CRITICIZED

The University of British Columbia has just released a report acknowledging that, due to an inadequate review process, ethics breaches in hundreds of research projects has been occurring for some time. Earlier this year the B.C. government had launched an inquiry into the matter, but the university decided to voluntarily disclose disputed portions of the report.

According to the information released, the university’s Clinical Research Ethics Board (CREB) showed “serious and indefensible deficiencies” in approving more than 500 research projects prior to 2001. Although the ethics board was to ensure that recruits to these projects understood the risks and were not exploited or harmed, the board staff were “overwhelmed and underfunded” and did not properly review these projects. To all intents and purposes, researchers were conducting their own ethics review–leading to possible conflict of interest, investigator bias, legal problems, and potentially dangerous outcomes due to “research misadventures” in UBC affiliate hospitals. Investigators revealed that this corner-cutting had been going on for years.

The situation became so serious that the B.C. Cancer Agency, concerned over the inadequacy of the CREB’s review process, attempted to withdraw their projects and set up their own review process in order to ensure patient safety and research quality.

Once the matter came to light, Indira Samarasekera, head of UBC’s research department, took immediate steps to correct the situation.

UBC releases report critical of research ethics. Margaret Munro, In the Edmonton Journal, CanWest News Service, November 5, 2004.

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