The Importance of the Report of Belmont
Nowadays, the digital age is not able to protect the human subjects in the process of biomedical and behavioral research. There is a point to apply to already existing alternatives that have been developed over the last half of the century. The Belmont report was created with the purpose to regulate these relations and protect the well-being and the rights of participants on the state level. The paper contains a brief analysis of the report, its role and importance in the present human protection acts. It emphasizes the recommendation character of the document, which was drafted on the basis of subsequent normative acts regulating attitudes towards participants of the human subject experiments.
In comparison with the lab psychology, examinations provided in a good quality, the online researches and experiments provoke various discussions. The brightest example, which happened in 2015, was the scandal around the analysis of the Facebook management concerning the peoples mood. At that time, the company was blamed for the violation of ethical principles and privacy rights of its users that were automatically selected for the experiment. However, this is only one of the few known cases where the enquiry was exposed, even though it shows how evolution of digital experimentation develops discrepancies in research ethics.
In terms of the brief history of the Belmont report, it is a phenomenon of the governmental reaction on ethical failures in medical experiments, which appeared in 1978-1979. One of the brightest examples is Tuskegee Syphilis Study that was conducted in Alabama for forty years. The point of this analysis was in providing observation over the progressing of untreated syphilis among African-American living in rural areas. As a result, approximately 600 African-American men (about 400 with syphilis and about 200 without syphilis) were recruited into the study without informed consent (Research Ethics, 2016, n. p.).
The executive partner of the U.S. government was Tuskegee University based on which the fake treatment program was implemented. Hence, this uncontrolled move led to creation of the numerous institutions working on the prevention of further violations of human rights and health condition.
Despite the reaction was late, several experts presented a recommendation project aimed at impeding ensuing vulnerable attitude to peoples treatment and care. In this aspect, the importance of the document is somehow controversial. On the one side, it proclaims three principles forming the basis of ethical norms of behavior with participation of the human subject. They are: 1) the principle for respect for person; 2) beneficence; and 3) justice (CIHR Training Program in Vascular Research, 2014). On the other side, this report is quite abstract, since it has no legal power and its recommendation character was disposed to the doubts for several times. Even though, these three postulates gained operational and procedural forms that nowadays regulate common rules, which are compulsory at the US universities working or experimenting with human subjects.
With regard to the discussion of the principles, the Belmont Report proclaims that respect to each person should be committed by two distinct assumptions. One of them requires the treatment of individuals in autonomous way, and the second one demands additional protection to those with diminished autonomy. In practice, it means that the researchers are supposed to receive an informed consent signed by the project participants, which marks persons comprehension, voluntariness and information. All data must be presented in understandable way with all benefits and risks the member can encounter. In case the individual has no will to participate, no one has the right to force him or to provide experiments and researching secretly.
The principle of beneficence is important as the critical approach that makes the candidates interest higher than the ambitions of the researchers. Hence, if the result of the experiment or the research can be achieved in another or less negatively consequent way, the investigators are encouraged to use it. However, the document is not so clear, and according to Richard Miller (2003), The Report fails to distinguish between the need to respect the autonomy of agents with diminished capacity from the need to protect these agents from harm (p. 24).
The point of justice is considered to distribute the burdens and benefits of the experiment or the research; moreover, it touches the social division issue when one category of people must always give and the other one can just consume. Nevertheless, there is the essence in critical statement: In contrast to other values, the elucidation of justice and its requirements in the context of research ethics is in its relative infancy (London, 2006, p. 6). In social meanings, mostly poorer individuals agree on some experiments while citizens with profitable incomes avoid them.
In nursery, these things are vital because of the specifics in the work of nurses and their commitments for participants. It means that the document put a plot defining behavioral and agreement ethics between the nurses and the patients, which must always refer to the standards of IRBs (institutional review boards).
No human subjects experiments can be conducted without the approval of IRBs. Basically, the rest of the principles are derivative from the three primary ones including ethical and legal issues. It is a consent of the patient, coordination of studies related to the protection of the sick from any risks, the good will of the participant in signing the agreement etc. It also includes avoiding additional procedures that the patient was not informed about, respect to peoples privacy and providing with the minimal necessary care, e.g. psychological, medical etc.
Thus, it is hardly to evaluate the role of Belmont report as the primary document protecting rights of the human subjects and ethical approach to biomedical experiments. On the one hand, it was only the first attempt that appeared much later than it was necessary, bringing rather general requests than procedural interpretations. On the other hand, it promoted establishment of the new profiled national institutions and extension of the existing ones maintaining three principles of the Belmont report. The latter include respect to each person, beneficence, and justice.