Ethical Decision-Making in Biomedical Engineering Research

Ethical Decision-Making in Biomedical Engineering Research

Monique Frize (Carleton University, Canada and University of Ottawa, Canada) and Irena Zamboni (University of Ottawa, Canada)
Copyright: © 2008 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-889-5.ch068
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To be ethical and professional are terms that are synonymous with being an engineer. The work of engineers frequently affects public safety and health, and can influence business, and even politics. Professional Engineering Associations provide ethical guidelines so that engineers will know how to avoid misconduct, negligence, incompetence, and corruption, which could lead to formal complaints and discipline. Knowledge about ethical decision-making guides engineers facing complex and difficult moral dilemmas (Andrews, 2005, pp. 46). Biomedical engineers doing research and development will undoubtedly be involved in projects that impact humans and/or animals, and thus must be informed on all aspects of ethics that guide such research. They should be particularly aware of the specific guidelines of the institution where the work is to be carried-out and be familiar with the application process to obtain a certificate, allowing the research to proceed. There is clearly a need to guide biomedical engineering students and practitioners in performing a balanced analysis of difficult questions and issues, while respecting societal values that may differ greatly from their own (Frize, 1996; Frize, 2005; Saha & Saha, 1997; Wueste, 1997). There exists a number of articles discussing biomedical engineering and ethics specifically aimed at clinical engineers (Goodman, 1989; Saha & Saha, 1986). These are helpful readings for anyone involved in biomedical research or clinical engineering.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Subject Relativism (SR): Theory where there are no universal moral norms of right and wrong. Persons decide right and wrong for themselves.

Divine Command Theory (DCT): Theory based on the idea that good actions are those aligned with the will of God; bad actions are those contrary to the will of God; that we owe obedience to our Creator, and that God is all-good and all-knowing, the ultimate authority.

Cultural Relativism (CR): Ethical theory where the meaning of right and wrong rests with a society’s actual moral guidelines.

Act Utilitarianism (Act U): Theory stating that an action is good if it benefits someone, and bad if it harms someone, also known as the “greatest happiness principle” (individual moral actions).

Social Contract Theory (SC): Theory based on the benefits to the community, governing how people are to treat one another. It is framed in the language of individual rights, and explains why rational people act out of self-interest in the absence of common agreement.

Rule Utilitarianism (Rule U): Theory stating that a moral rule should be followed, because its universal adoption would lead to the greatest increase in total happiness.

Kantianism: Theory also referred to as the categorical imperative, and pertaining to actions that are universally considered to be good, and involve good will and duty. Treat yourself and others as ends in themselves, never as a means to an end.

Nuremberg Code: Code created as a result of the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II, dealing with principles of human experimentation and voluntary informed consent.

Declaration of Helsinki: Statement of ethical principles, developed by the World Medical Association, to provide guidance to physicians and others when performing research involving human subjects, identifiable human material, or data.

Hippocratic Oath: Oath taken by physicians upon graduation, outlining the moral and ethical obligations to patients during the practice of medicine.

Morality: Defined as what people believe to be right and good, and the reasons for it.

Rawl’s Theory of Justice: Theory stating that each individual may claim basic rights and liberties (ex., freedom of thought, speech, right to be safe from harm, and so on), as long as these claims are consistent with everyone having a claim to the same rights and liberties.

Ethics: The philosophical study of morality, of right and wrong, of good and evil in human conduct.

Rights Theory: Theory stating that everyone has rights arising simply from being born—the right to life, maximum individual liberty, and human dignity are all fundamental rights. This theory is the basis for the “Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”

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