Government Involvement in Research
The involvement of government in research, as well as the extent of its involvement has always been a touchy issue in Canada, as whereas government must ensure the safety and wellbeing of its citizens, these interests must also at the same time be moderated by considerations for the benefits the research is bound to have bring about for the general public. This dilemma is mostly common within the health sector, as the government through bodies such as the HIPAA, OHRP and established IRBs, is forced to balance between the safety of the participants and the potential benefits that findings will bring to a given area of medicine or public health. However, the first two case studies highlight what can occur if the government absconds its duty to respect and protect the rights of each individual citizen, hence the need for government involvement.
The Tuskegee experiment in particular depicts what could happen in research involving human subjects if sufficient checks and balances are not put in place to rein in rogue researchers, while at the same time, the University of Pennsylvania case highlights the risks involved when the government fails to fulfill its mandate with the thoroughness required. Further, the case regarding the Wendat, highlights how laws even if applied properly without sensitivity to culture, can still be applied selectively and in a demeaning manner. It is therefore necessary for government bodies charged with enforcing laws and regulations guiding research in a manner that takes both the subjects and their cultural environment into account. Failure to do so is likely to result in the infringement of the participants’ rights, or their exploitation by shrewd and cunning researchers.
However, government regulation must also be tempered with objectivity, and a clear sense of responsibility to promoting helpful research, rather than simple blind enforcement of the law. Laurie Essig’s description of her experiences with the IRBs, as well as those of her colleague researchers highlight the manner through which bureaucracy and personal opinion is gradually choking research, hence threatening the very future of fieldwork. The free reign that IRBs enjoy, has meant that essentially the very fate of research is left in the hands of a few individuals, whose interpretation of the law essentially determines the fate of a research, regardless of the merits or demerits it may have for the potential participants. Rather than perform the watchdog role that they were initially designed for, IRBs have increasingly become impediments to objective and important research.
Further, the inconsistencies that Mitch Smith admits exist in how IRBs handle new situations, depicts a need for a shared framework and basis for judging research or potential research. Establishing a common framework within which all IRBs must operate, could potentially serve to ensure that good research proposals that could be of immense benefit to the society are not frustrated on account of simple typographical errors. Further, the ultimate decision over whether or not to participate in a research or study, should lie with the potential participants, the IRBs involvement should be limited to ensuring equality, minimization of risk, informed consent, as well as its documentation. By fulfilling these roles, the IRB would be able to adequately play the watchdog role it was designed for, rather than needlessly frustrating important research.
Overall, government involvement in research is very important, as it ensures that research and studies researchers engage in are ethical and do not infringe the rights of the participants. However, government involvement must be balanced with the need to encourage research, rather than discourage potentially helpful studies, hence the need to remain watchdogs rather than a means of frustrating research.