It’s week five in this blog series exploring the ethical principles underpinning research so it’s time to have a look at ‘veracity’. This is the principle that places an obligation on researchers to tell the truth about their research. Whilst it might seem obvious to state that researchers should always be honest, it isn’t too hard to find examples of situations where researchers might not have been as open as they should have been when providing information to their participants or to those considering participation in their research.
Participating in research can place considerable burdens on those being invited to join a study. There might be multiple clinic visits, repeated blood sampling or various other inconvenient or uncomfortable procedures. It important that researchers tell the truth about their research, even if they fear it might deter potential participants from entering a study.
Veracity is closely linked to the principle of ‘respect for autonomy’ (next week’s blog) because people organise their lives and make decisions on the assumption that others will not deceive them. If key information is withheld, or if they are provided with misleading information, an individual’s ability to make an informed decision risks being compromised.
In clinical situations there may be times when it could be argued that it is in a patient’s best interests to have information withheld from them. For example, when sharing information that could cause more harm than good. It is important to remember, however, that such circumstances are much less likely to happen in a research situation where investigators should be seeking to ensure that potential research participants are given all the information they need to make an informed decision. If there is a danger that someone might be harmed by receiving information then they probably shouldn’t be approached in the first place.
Research Ethics Committees stress the need to provide accurate and meaningful information as part of the process of recruitment but it also remains an important principle throughout all stages of the research. On occasion it may be necessary to provide existing research participants with new information that might have emerged after the study started. This is particularly important when the new information might change an individual’s decision about participating in the research.
Researchers are understandably keen to recruit to their research as quickly as possible but not being completely open with potential research participants can have negative consequences for their research. As a Research Ethics Committee Chair I review a large number of protocol amendments and a significant number of these stem from problems in achieving desired sample sizes. Often the problem is a result of difficulties encountered at the time of recruitment but it is also clear that there are instances when high attrition rates have required researchers to recruit more participants than they had hoped. Part of the reason for so many participants choosing to leave a study could be that they were not aware of what was expected of them at the outset.
Veracity is clearly linked to the other seven ethical principles and next week I’ll consider ‘confidentiality’.