Research Integrity: Concise

Human subjects protections

Introduction

Protecting human subjects in research is a high priority for research programmes throughout the world

This course provides a summary and brief explanations of the basic responsibilities researchers have when conducting human subjects research. It covers:

  • Guiding principles
  • Review and approval
  • Preparing for review
  • Ethical considerations
  • Continuing responsibilities
  • What can go wrong?

Visit the 'Australian human subjects policies' section at the end of this course for more information on the policies in your own context.

Response to past abuses

In the past, prisoners of war and in concentration camps, inmates in public institutions and disadvantaged groups have been abused and in some cases allowed to die, allegedly for the purpose of advancing knowledge and human understanding. To prevent such abuses, national and global guidelines/rules now exist for the responsible conduct of human subjects research. Researchers have a fundamental responsibility to know and follow these guidelines/rules.

The mistreatment of humans in research is not simply old news. As illustrated in the cases that close this course, some researchers still engage in irresponsible practices that compromise the basic rights and dignity of human subjects. In a few cases, recent irresponsible behaviour has led to severe illness and even death. Protecting human subjects in research therefore continues as a high priority for research programmes throughout the world.

A word about terminology

The individuals studied as a part of research are often referred to as 'participants' rather than 'subjects', to emphasise the need to engage them in the research process and not just study them. We have chosen to use the term subject since it is more commonly used in regulations and research publications. We agree that participation in research is essential to the advance of knowledge and should be recognised as an important contribution to society.