Ethics of Fieldwork

The Principles of the Belmont Report

This section will introduce you to the three principles of the Belmont Report:

Visit the National Institututes of Health Office of Human Subjects Research website to read the Belmont Report.

  • Respect for Persons
    • “The principle of respect for persons… [includes] …two separate moral requirements: the requirement to acknowledge autonomy and the requirement to protect those with diminished autonomy” (The Belmont Report)
    • In practice, this means that individuals have a right to decide for themselves whether to participate in research. You may not use information about people without first getting their informed consent. Special care must be taken with people who are unable to understand or who are particularly susceptible to coercion.
  • Benificence
    • Two general rules have been formulated as complementary expressions of beneficent actions in this sense: (1) do not harm and (2) maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms.” (The Belmont Report)
    • In practice, this means that it is not OK to use people for research unless the research is likely to have some benefit. Furthermore, this benefit must outweigh the risks.
  • Justice
    • Justice requires that people be treated fairly. Researchers should not take from research participants without giving back:
      • “For example, the selection of research subjects needs to be scrutinized in order to determine whether some classes (e.g., welfare patients, particular racial and ethnic minorities, or persons confined to institutions) are being systematically selected simply because of their easy availability, their compromised position, or their manipulability, rather than for reasons directly related to the problem being studied. Finally, whenever research supported by public funds leads to the development of therapeutic devices and procedures, justice demands both that these not provide advantages only to those who can afford them and that such research should not unduly involve persons from groups unlikely to be among the beneficiaries of subsequent applications of the research.”