The Principle of Caveat Emptor: Confidentiality and Informed Consent as Endemic Ethical Dilemmas in Focus Group Research
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2009 March; 6(1): 99-108
Informed consent and confidentiality supposedly minimize harm for research participants in all qualitative research methodologies, inclusive of one-on-one unstructured interviews and focus groups. This is not the case for the latter. Confidentiality and informed consent uniquely manifest themselves as endemic ethical dilemmas for focus group researchers. The principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) may be a more useful tool for those involved in focus group research: that is, let the researcher, the participants and the ethics committee beware that the only ethical assurance that can be given to focus group participants is that there are few ethical assurances. These ethical dilemmas are not sufficiently realized in the literature, and if they are discussed, they are often dealt with within the focus group moderator's preamble to the group discussion. This paper encourages the mandatory use of a participant information sheet sufficiently detailed to engender the participant's active consent. Sufficient here means the participant must be made adequately aware of these endemic ethical dilemmas in advance, to allow them to consent to share responsibility for any ensuing harm. The focus group moderator is not their sole protector.
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