Description: If I asked you to ponder what it is like to be a Guinea Pig, I suspect you would not actually start to reflect on what it might be like to be small and furry. Rather, you would be more likely to contemplate what is would be like to be a participant in a research study that involved having something, perhaps a new treatment for something, tried on you. Now, Psychologists these days, according to the Tri-Council research ethics guidelines surround ing ALL research with human participants are not supposed to refer to their human research participants as Guinea Pigs or as subjects The former is not to be used because it is inhumane and ethics guidelines for research with animals are somewhat different than are those for research with humans and, as well, the latter label “subjects” carries the baggage of the holder being subject to regal decrees and royal whims – not how researchers ought to behave. You may not care about these matters BUT what if you were one of the thousands of humans participating in trials of newly developed Coronavirus vaccines? Think about that. The trials are “blind” which means that, while they are in the trial, they are not told whether the “jab(s)” they received were genuine vaccines or placebos. Think about what sorts of thoughts you would be having if you were in such a trial. Why are trials set up so that participants do not know if they got the vaccine or the placebo? And why are placebo’s used? And when should the researchers tell you which shot you received? Or would they ever? When your turn come up in your general health system should you get whatever vaccine is being offered to you? I bet you would be thinking about some or maybe all of these things even if you were not being asked by me to think about them. That is one of the HUGE differences between studying humans and studying Guinea Pigs and it informs a great many of the codes and clauses in research ethics guidelines. Consider how YOU would ask and answer these questions and then read through the article linked below in which an individual currently in a vaccine trial describes their own thoughts and actions.
Source: Vaccine trials and tribulations: How the Oxford/AstraZeneca experiments put my immunity and my instinct to the test, Tiffany Cassidy, The Globe and Mail.
Date: February 6, 2021
Studying humans in any is challenging because they notice, think about, and react to what you do or have them do in your research. The rocks that geologists study don’t do that and neither di Guinea Pigs. I hope, having considered the very current and alive example of participation in vaccine trials you have a better understanding of the complexity and the importance of research ethics guidelines. They are vitally important!
Questions for Discussion:
- What does it mean to call a research study condition “blind”?
- Why are blind trials important parts of vaccine research trials and why are they ethical (to only give half of the participants the “real” vaccine”?
- Under what conditions would it be ethically essential to stop a clinical trial and give everyone the “real” vaccine?
References (Read Further):
Hill, A. B. (1963). Medical ethics and controlled trials. British medical journal, 1(5337), 1043. Link
Temple, R., & Ellenberg, S. S. (2000). Placebo-controlled trials and active-control trials in the evaluation of new treatments. Part 1: ethical and scientific issues. Annals of internal medicine, 133(6), 455-463. Link
Edwards, S. J., Lilford, R. J., & Hewison, J. (1998). The ethics of randomised controlled trials from the perspectives of patients, the public, and healthcare professionals. Bmj, 317(7167), 1209-1212. Link
Wendler, D., Ochoa, J., Millum, J., Grady, C., & Taylor, H. A. (2020). COVID-19 vaccine trial ethics once we have efficacious vaccines. Science, 370(6522), 1277-1279. Link
Canada.ca (2020) Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans – TCPS 2 (2018) Link
Canadian Psychological Association Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Fourth Edition)