The Belmont Report

Faced with the fact that the disregard for human welfare in research occurred not just abroad but also at home, various departments of the U.S. government issued federal guidelines concerning the protection of the rights of human subjects during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. (See Anderson, 1996; Applebaum, Lidz, & Meisel, 1987; Faden & Beauchamp, 1986.) In an attempt to bring consistency to the federal effort to protect humans who participate in research, Congress established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research in 1974.

After 4 years of deliberation, the Commission produced its influential Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research (The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1979). The Belmont Report presents clearly what the members of the commission considered to be at stake ethically in research with humans It establishes three basic ethical principles that must be observed in research with human beings:

  1. Respect for Persons: Respect for individuals’ autonomy and the need to protect those whose human condition results in reduced autonomy.
  2. Beneficence: The Hippocratic imperative to do no harm, and the stricture to maximize benefits and minimize risk when considering research with humans.
  3. Justice: Research must involve the equitable selection of participants and must be fair to all who participate. Once a positive benefit is discovered, it must be extended to all involved in the research, in contrast to the Tuskegee research.

The Belmont Report is easily available on the Internet by searching its name. It is short, lucid, and because it gives the underpinning of subse­quent federal regulations in this area, well worth reading.

Source: Seidman Irving (2006), Interviewing As Qualitative Research: A Guide for Researchers in Education And the Social Sciences, Teachers College Press; 3rd edition.

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