Researchers Make Ethical Value Judgments -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

"Epidemiologists must endorse particular public policy aims of the research in order to make methodological decisions throughout the research process. In the case of research into racial disparities, the researcher decides how to define race - whether by genetic markers or by census data. Both definitions are valid on their own, but in deciding which one to use, the scientist makes value assumptions about which would best promote the social aims of the research, such as eliminating racial disparities," says Dr. Inmaculada de Melo-Martín, the study's co-author and associate professor in the Division of Medical Ethics in the Department of Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"Also, scientists make value judgments in deciding which areas of research to pursue. For example, if the recommendations likely to result from additional genetic research are already part of standard medical practice, or if the new drugs resulting from genetic research would likely be too expensive for minority groups, then genetic research may not be the most effective way of trying to decrease racial health disparities," notes de Melo-Martín.

"In fact, many medical research scientists make these value judgments without being aware of it - while at the same time wrongly believing any such value-laden decisions automatically lead to bias. In order to change this misperception, we recommend that training in epidemiology and other fields offer some instruction related to the ethical and social dimensions of research," adds de Melo-Martín.

"The paper makes a compelling argument for integrating ethical reasoning into epidemiological studies in order to make explicit the value judgments that can distort analysis," says Dr. Joseph J. Fins, professor of medicine and public health at Weill Cornell Medical College.; Source: Weill Cornell Medical College