Unequal Protection for Patient Rights: The Divide Between University and Health Ethics Committees
Baldwin, Kate Mary
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2005; 2(1): 34-40
Despite recommendations from the Cartwright Report ethical review by health ethics committees has continued in New Zealand without health practitioners ever having to acknowledge their dual roles as health practitioners researching their own patients. On the other hand, universities explicitly identify doctor/research-patient relations as potentially raising conflict of role issues. This stems from the acknowledgement within the university sector itself that lecturer/research-student relations are fraught with such conflicts. Although similar unequal relationships are seen to exist between health resarchers and their patients, the patient/subjects are not afforded the levels of protection that are afforded student/subjects. In this paper we argue that the difference between universities and health research is a result of the failure of the Operational Standard Code for Ethics Committees to explicitly acknowledge the vulnerability of the patient and conflict of interests in the dual roles of health practitioner/researcher. We end the paper recommending the Ministry of Health consider the rewriting of the Operational Standard Code for Ethics Committees, in particular in the rewriting of section 26 of the Operational Standard Code for Ethics Committees. We also identify the value of comparative ethical review and suggest the New Zealand's Health Research Council's trilateral relationship with Australia's NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) and Canada's CIHR (Canadian Institute of Health Research) as a useful starting point for such a process.
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