Ethical Principles in Health Research and Review Process

Acta Trop. 2009 Nov;112 Suppl 1:S2-7. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2009.07.031. Epub 2009 Aug 7.


In this paper I want to reflect on the fundamental ethical principles and their application in different particular contexts, especially in health research and the ethics review process. Four fundamental ethical principles have been identified and widely discussed in bioethical literature. These principles namely are: autonomy or respect for others, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. These principles have cross-cultural validity, relevance and applicability. Every real-life situation and every concrete particular case in which ethical decision-making is called-for is unique and different from all others; but the same fundamental ethical principles are relevant and used in addressing all such cases and situations. Very often ethical problems will present themselves in the form of dilemmas and it is then necessary to use the same fundamental principles to analyze the situations, to argue persuasively and cogently with competence for the best options or choices in such situations. The issues I will be dealing with in this paper are necessarily more abstract and theoretical, but we will be discussing them from a very practical viewpoint and impulse, with a view to application in concrete real-life situations. The paper ends with some sample practical examples of cases that the reader can use to test his/her grasp of the principles, how to apply them, how to balance them in differing situations and contexts and how to adjudicate between them when they seem to be in conflict.

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence
  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Disclosure
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Human Experimentation / ethics
  • Informed Consent
  • Morals
  • Professional Autonomy
  • Social Justice