BMC Medical Ethics is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in relation to medical ethics, heathcare and bioethics.

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  • The ethics of explantation

    Sven Ove Hansson (BMC, 2021-09-01)
    Abstract Background With the increased use of implanted medical devices follows a large number of explantations. Implants are removed for a wide range of reasons, including manufacturing defects, recovery making the device unnecessary, battery depletion, availability of new and better models, and patients asking for a removal. Explantation gives rise to a wide range of ethical issues, but the discussion of these problems is scattered over many clinical disciplines. Methods Information from multiple clinical disciplines was synthesized and analysed in order to provide a comprehensive approach to the ethical issues involved in the explantation of medical implants. Results Discussions and recommendations are offered on pre-implantation information about a possible future explantation, risk–benefit assessments of explantation, elective explantations demanded by the patient, explantation of implants inserted for a clinical trial, patient registers, quality assurance, routines for investigating explanted implants, and demands on manufacturers to prioritize increased service time in battery-driven implants and to market fewer but more thoroughly tested models of implants. Conclusion Special emphasis is given to the issue of control or ownership over implants, which underlies many of the ethical problems concerning explantation. It is proposed that just like transplants, implants that fulfil functions normally carried out by biological organs should be counted as supplemented body parts. This means that the patient has a strong and inalienable right to the implant, but upon explantation it loses that status.
  • Attitudes toward withholding antibiotics from people with dementia lacking decisional capacity: findings from a survey of Canadian stakeholders

    Gina Bravo; Lieve Van den Block; Jocelyn Downie; Marcel Arcand; Lise Trottier (BMC, 2021-09-01)
    Abstract Background Healthcare professionals and surrogate decision-makers often face the difficult decision of whether to initiate or withhold antibiotics from people with dementia who have developed a life-threatening infection after losing decisional capacity. Methods We conducted a vignette-based survey among 1050 Quebec stakeholders (senior citizens, family caregivers, nurses and physicians; response rate 49.4%) to (1) assess their attitudes toward withholding antibiotics from people with dementia lacking decisional capacity; (2) compare attitudes between dementia stages and stakeholder groups; and (3) investigate other correlates of attitudes, including support for continuous deep sedation (CDS) and medical assistance in dying (MAID). The vignettes feature a woman moving along the dementia trajectory, who has refused in writing all life-prolonging interventions and explicitly requested that a doctor end her life when she no longer recognizes her loved ones. Two stages were considered after she had lost capacity: the advanced stage, where she likely has several more years to live, and the terminal stage, where she is close to death. Results Support for withholding antibiotics ranged from 75% among seniors and caregivers at the advanced stage, to 98% among physicians at the terminal stage. Using the generalized estimating equation approach, we found stakeholder group, religiosity, and support for CDS and MAID, to be associated with attitudes toward antibiotics. Conclusions Findings underscore the importance for healthcare professionals of discussing underlying values and treatment goals with people at an early stage of dementia and their relatives, to help them anticipate future care decisions and better prepare surrogates for their role. Findings also have implications for the scope of MAID laws, in particular in Canada where the extension of MAID to persons lacking decisional capacity is currently being considered.
  • The ethical implications of verbal autopsy: responding to emotional and moral distress

    Alex Hinga; Vicki Marsh; Amek Nyaguara; Marylene Wamukoya; Sassy Molyneux (BMC, 2021-09-01)
    Abstract Background Verbal autopsy is a pragmatic approach for generating cause-of-death data in contexts without well-functioning civil registration and vital statistics systems. It has primarily been conducted in health and demographic surveillance systems (HDSS) in Africa and Asia. Although significant resources have been invested to develop the technical aspects of verbal autopsy, ethical issues have received little attention. We explored the benefits and burdens of verbal autopsy in HDSS settings and identified potential strategies to respond to the ethical issues identified. Methods This research was based on a case study approach centred on two contrasting HDSS in Kenya and followed the Mapping-Framing-Shaping Framework for empirical bioethics research. Data were collected through individual interviews, focus group discussions, document reviews and non-participant observations. 115 participants were involved, including 86 community members (HDSS residents and community representatives), and 29 research staff (HDSS managers, researchers, census field workers and verbal autopsy interviewers). Results The use of verbal autopsy data for research and public health was described as the most common potential benefit of verbal autopsy in HDSS. Community members mentioned the potential uses of verbal autopsy data in addressing immediate public health problems for the local population while research staff emphasized the benefits of verbal autopsy to research and the wider public. The most prominent burden associated with the verbal autopsy was emotional distress for verbal autopsy interviewers and respondents. Moral events linked to the interview, such as being unsure of the right thing to do (moral uncertainty) or knowing the right thing to do and being constrained from acting (moral constraint), emerged as key causes of emotional distress for verbal autopsy interviewers. Conclusions The collection of cause-of-death data through verbal autopsy in HDSS settings presents important ethical and emotional challenges for verbal autopsy interviewers and respondents. These challenges include emotional distress for respondents and moral distress for interviewers. This empirical ethics study provides detailed accounts of the distress caused by verbal autopsy and highlights ethical tensions between potential population benefits and risks to individuals. It includes recommendations for policy and practice to address emotional and moral distress in verbal autopsy.
  • Are investigators’ access to trial data and rights to publish restricted and are potential trial participants informed about this? A comparison of trial protocols and informed consent materials

    Asger S. Paludan-Müller; Michelle C. Ogden; Mikkel Marquardsen; Karsten J. Jørgensen; Peter C. Gøtzsche (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Objectives To determine to which degree industry partners in randomised clinical trials own the data and can constrain publication rights of academic investigators. Methods Cohort study of trial protocols, publication agreements and other documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, for a sample of 42 trials with industry involvement approved by ethics committees in Denmark. The main outcome measures used were: proportion of trials where data was owned by the industry partner, where the investigators right to publish were constrained and if this was mentioned in informed consent documents, and where the industry partner could review data while the trial was ongoing and stop the trial early. Results The industry partner owned all data in 20 trials (48%) and in 16 trials (38%) it was unclear. Publication constraints were described for 30 trials (71%) and this was not communicated to trial participants in informed consent documents in any of the trials. In eight trials (19%) the industry partner could review data during the trial, for 20 trials (48%) it was unclear. The industry partner could stop the trial early without any specific reason in 23 trials (55%). Conclusions Publication constraints are common, and data is often owned by industry partners. This is rarely communicated to trial participants. Such constraints might contribute to problems with selective outcome reporting. Patients should be fully informed about these aspects of trial conduct.
  • Organ donation after euthanasia starting at home in a patient with multiple system atrophy

    Najat Tajaâte; Nathalie van Dijk; Elien Pragt; David Shaw; A. Kempener-Deguelle; Wim de Jongh; Jan Bollen; Walther van Mook (BMC, 2021-09-01)
    Abstract Background A patient who fulfils the due diligence requirements for euthanasia, and is medically suitable, is able to donate his organs after euthanasia in Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada. Since 2012, more than 70 patients have undergone this combined procedure in the Netherlands. Even though all patients who undergo euthanasia are suffering hopelessly and unbearably, some of these patients are nevertheless willing to help others in need of an organ. Organ donation after euthanasia is a so-called donation after circulatory death (DCD), Maastricht category III procedure, which takes place following cardiac arrest, comparable to donation after withdrawal of life sustaining therapy in critically ill patients. To minimize the period of organ ischemia, the patient is transported to the operating room immediately after the legally mandated no-touch period of 5 min following circulatory arrest. This means that the organ donation procedure following euthanasia must take place in the hospital, which appears to be insurmountable to many patients who are willing to donate, since they already spent a lot of time in the hospital. Case presentation This article describes the procedure of organ donation after euthanasia starting at home (ODAEH) following anesthesia in a former health care professional suffering from multiple system atrophy. This case is unique for at least two reasons. He spent his last conscious hours surrounded by his family at home, after which he underwent general anaesthesia and was intubated, before being transported to the hospital for euthanasia and organ donation. In addition, the patient explicitly requested the euthanasia to be performed in the preparation room, next to the operating room, in order to limit the period of organ ischemia due to transport time from the intensive care unit to the operating room. The medical, legal and ethical considerations related to this illustrative case are subsequently discussed. Conclusions Organ donation after euthanasia is a pure act of altruism. This combined procedure can also be performed after the patient has been anesthetized at home and during transportation to the hospital.
  • Patients’ and professionals’ views related to ethical issues in precision medicine: a mixed research synthesis

    Anke Erdmann; Christoph Rehmann-sutter; Claudia Bozzaro (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Background Precision medicine development is driven by the possibilities of next generation sequencing, information technology and artificial intelligence and thus, raises a number of ethical questions. Empirical studies have investigated such issues from the perspectives of health care professionals, researchers and patients. We synthesize the results from these studies in this review. Methods We used a systematic strategy to search, screen and assess the literature for eligibility related to our research question. The initial search for empirical studies in five data bases provided 665 different records and we selected 92 of these publications for inclusion in this review. Data were extracted in a spreadsheet and categorized into different topics representing the views on ethical issues in precision medicine. Results Many patients and professionals expect high benefits from precision medicine and have a positive attitude towards it. However, patients and professionals also perceive some risks. Commonly perceived risks include: lack of evidence for accuracy of tests and efficacy of treatments; limited knowledge of patients, which makes informed consent more difficult; possible unavailability of access to precision medicine for underprivileged people and ethnic minorities; misuse of data by insurance companies and employers, potential of racial stigmatization due to genetic information; unwanted communication of incidental findings; changes in doctor-patient-relationship through focusing on data; and the problem that patients could feel under pressure to optimize their health. Conclusions National legislation and guidelines already minimize many risks associated with precision medicine. However, from our perspective some problems require more attention. Should hopes for precision medicine’s benefits be fulfilled, then the ethical principle of justice would require an unlimited access to precision medicine for all people. The potential for autonomous patients’ decisions must be greatly enhanced by improvements in patient education. Harm from test results must be avoided in any case by the highest possible data security level and communication guidelines. Changes in the doctor-patient relationship and the impact of precision medicine on the quality of life should be further investigated. Additionally, the cost-effectiveness of precision medicine should be further examined, in order to avoid malinvestment.
  • Achieving inclusive research priority-setting: what do people with lived experience and the public think is essential?

    Bridget Pratt (BMC, 2021-09-01)
    Abstract Background Engagement of people with lived experience and members of the public is an ethically and scientifically essential component of health research. Authentic engagement means they are involved as full partners in research projects. Yet engagement as partnership is uncommon in practice, especially during priority-setting for research projects. What is needed for agenda-setting to be shared by researchers and people with lived experience and/or members of the public (or organisations representing them)? At present, little ethical guidance exists on this matter, particularly that which has been informed by the perspectives of people with lived experience and members of the public. This article provides initial evidence about what they think are essential foundations and barriers to shared decision-making in health research priority-setting and health research more broadly. Methods An exploratory, qualitative study was conducted in 2019. 22 semi-structured interviews were performed with key informants from the UK and Australia. Results Three main types of foundations were thought to be essential to have in place before shared decision-making can occur in health research priority-setting: relational, environmental, and personal. Collectively, the three types of foundations addressed many (but not all) of the barriers to power sharing identified by interviewees. Conclusions Based on study findings, suggestions are made for what researchers, engagement practitioners, research institutions, and funders should do in their policy and practice to support meaningful engagement. Finally, key international research ethics guidelines on community engagement are considered in light of study findings.
  • Practice variation in the informed consent procedure for thrombolysis in acute ischemic stroke: a survey among neurologists and neurology residents

    Valentijn J. Zonjee; Jos P. L. Slenders; Frank de Beer; Marieke C. Visser; Bastiaan C. ter Meulen; Renske M. Van den Berg-Vos; Sander M. van Schaik (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Background Obtaining informed consent for intravenous thrombolysis in acute ischemic stroke can be challenging, and little is known about if and how the informed consent procedure is performed by neurologists in clinical practice. This study examines the procedure of informed consent for intravenous thrombolysis in acute ischemic stroke in high-volume stroke centers in the Netherlands. Methods In four high volume stroke centers, neurology residents and attending neurologists received an online questionnaire concerning informed consent for thrombolysis with tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA). The respondents were asked to report their usual informed consent practice for tPA treatment and their considerations on whether informed consent should be obtained. Results From the 203 invited clinicians, 50% (n = 101) completed the questionnaire. One-third of the neurology residents (n = 21) and 21% of the neurologists (n = 8) reported that they always obtain informed consent for tPA treatment. If a patient is not capable of providing informed consent, 30% of the residents (n = 19) reported that they start tPA treatment without informed consent. In these circumstances, 53% of the neurologists (n = 20) reported that the resident under their supervision would start tPA treatment without informed consent. Most neurologists (n = 21; 55%) and neurology residents (n = 45; 72%) obtained informed consent within one minute. None of the respondents used more than five minutes for informed consent. Important themes regarding obtaining informed consent for treatment were patients’ capacity, and medical, ethical and legal considerations. Conclusion The current practice of informed consent for thrombolysis in acute ischemic stroke varies among neurologists and neurology residents. If informed consent is obtained, most clinicians stated to obtain informed consent within one minute. In the future, a shortened information provision process may be applied, making a shift from informed consent to informed refusal, while still considering the patient’s capacity, stroke severity, and possible treatment delays.
  • Collective forward-looking responsibility of patient advocacy organizations: conceptual and ethical analysis

    Regina Müller; Christoph Rach; Sabine Salloch (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Background Patient advocacy organizations (PAOs) have an increasing influence on health policy and biomedical research, therefore, questions about the specific character of their responsibility arise: Can PAOs bear moral responsibility and, if so, to whom are they responsible, for what and on which normative basis? Although the concept of responsibility in healthcare is strongly discussed, PAOs particularly have rarely been systematically analyzed as morally responsible agents. The aim of the current paper is to analyze the character of PAOs’ responsibility to provide guidance to themselves and to other stakeholders in healthcare. Methods Responsibility is presented as a concept with four reference points: (1) The subject, (2) the object, (3) the addressee and (4) the underlying normative standard. This four-point relationship is applied to PAOs and the dimensions of collectivity and prospectivity are analyzed in each reference point. Results Understood as collectives, PAOs are, in principle, capable of intentionality and able to act and, thus, fulfill one prerequisite for the attribution of moral responsibility. Given their common mission to represent those affected, PAOs can be seen as responsible for patients’ representation and advocacy, primarily towards a certain group but secondarily in a broader social context. Various legal and political statements and the bioethical principles of justice, beneficence and empowerment can be used as a normative basis for attributing responsibility to PAOs. Conclusions The understanding of responsibility as a four-point relation incorporating collective and forward-looking dimensions helps one to understand the PAOs’ roles and responsibilities better. The analysis, thus, provides a basis for the debate about PAOs’ contribution and cooperation in the healthcare sector.
  • The social licence for data-intensive health research: towards co-creation, public value and trust

    Sam H. A. Muller; Shona Kalkman; Ghislaine J. M. W. van Thiel; Menno Mostert; Johannes J. M. van Delden (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Background The rise of Big Data-driven health research challenges the assumed contribution of medical research to the public good, raising questions about whether the status of such research as a common good should be taken for granted, and how public trust can be preserved. Scandals arising out of sharing data during medical research have pointed out that going beyond the requirements of law may be necessary for sustaining trust in data-intensive health research. We propose building upon the use of a social licence for achieving such ethical governance. Main text We performed a narrative review of the social licence as presented in the biomedical literature. We used a systematic search and selection process, followed by a critical conceptual analysis. The systematic search resulted in nine publications. Our conceptual analysis aims to clarify how societal permission can be granted to health research projects which rely upon the reuse and/or linkage of health data. These activities may be morally demanding. For these types of activities, a moral legitimation, beyond the limits of law, may need to be sought in order to preserve trust. Our analysis indicates that a social licence encourages us to recognise a broad range of stakeholder interests and perspectives in data-intensive health research. This is especially true for patients contributing data. Incorporating such a practice paves the way towards an ethical governance, based upon trust. Public engagement that involves patients from the start is called for to strengthen this social licence. Conclusions There are several merits to using the concept of social licence as a guideline for ethical governance. Firstly, it fits the novel scale of data-related risks; secondly, it focuses attention on trustworthiness; and finally, it offers co-creation as a way forward. Greater trust can be achieved in the governance of data-intensive health research by highlighting strategic dialogue with both patients contributing the data, and the public in general. This should ultimately contribute to a more ethical practice of governance.
  • South African traditional values and beliefs regarding informed consent and limitations of the principle of respect for autonomy in African communities: a cross-cultural qualitative study

    Francis Akpa-Inyang; Sylvester C. Chima (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Background The Western-European concept of libertarian rights-based autonomy, which advocates respect for individual rights, may conflict with African cultural values and norms. African communitarian ethics focuses on the interests of the collective whole or community, rather than rugged individualism. Hence collective decision-making processes take precedence over individual autonomy or consent. This apparent conflict may impact informed consent practice during biomedical research in African communities and may hinder ethical principlism in African bioethics. This study explored African biomedical researchers' perspectives regarding informed consent and potential limitations to the principle of respect for autonomy in African communities. Methods We conducted a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with 12 biomedical researchers, five females and seven males aged 34 to 74 years, currently working at an African university. Interviews lasted 35–40 min each and involved semi-structured open-ended interviews, which allowed participants to offer information about their perceptions and feelings regarding respect for autonomy and informed consent as practised in Africa. Empirical data from the interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analysed using thematic content analysis, together with an interrogation of relevant scientific literature about African communitarian ethics, making evaluations and drawing inferences consistent with the empirical bioethics approach. Results Based on these interviews and analysis of relevant literature, we found that informed consent is difficult to apply in an African context because it derives from a Western conception of libertarian rights-based autonomy. Most respondents pointed out that it was challenging to implement informed consent in the African setting. Furthermore, communalism, customary beliefs, spirituality, and relational autonomy are predominant in most African communities, as exemplified by the African moral philosophies of Ubuntu/Botho and Ukama, which emphasize communitarianism over individual rights. We also found that language, education, poverty, and cultural beliefs are barriers to obtaining proper informed consent in African communities. Conclusions We conclude that there are limitations to applying the principle of respect for autonomy and informed consent in African communities, especially in the context of human biomedical research. We recommend using a more relational approach, such as Ross’s prima facie duties, to implement informed consent in African communities.
  • The ethics of machine learning-based clinical decision support: an analysis through the lens of professionalisation theory

    Nils B. Heyen; Sabine Salloch (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Background Machine learning-based clinical decision support systems (ML_CDSS) are increasingly employed in various sectors of health care aiming at supporting clinicians’ practice by matching the characteristics of individual patients with a computerised clinical knowledge base. Some studies even indicate that ML_CDSS may surpass physicians’ competencies regarding specific isolated tasks. From an ethical perspective, however, the usage of ML_CDSS in medical practice touches on a range of fundamental normative issues. This article aims to add to the ethical discussion by using professionalisation theory as an analytical lens for investigating how medical action at the micro level and the physician–patient relationship might be affected by the employment of ML_CDSS. Main text Professionalisation theory, as a distinct sociological framework, provides an elaborated account of what constitutes client-related professional action, such as medical action, at its core and why it is more than pure expertise-based action. Professionalisation theory is introduced by presenting five general structural features of professionalised medical practice: (i) the patient has a concern; (ii) the physician deals with the patient’s concern; (iii) s/he gives assistance without patronising; (iv) s/he regards the patient in a holistic manner without building up a private relationship; and (v) s/he applies her/his general expertise to the particularities of the individual case. Each of these five key aspects are then analysed regarding the usage of ML_CDSS, thereby integrating the perspectives of professionalisation theory and medical ethics. Conclusions Using ML_CDSS in medical practice requires the physician to pay special attention to those facts of the individual case that cannot be comprehensively considered by ML_CDSS, for example, the patient’s personality, life situation or cultural background. Moreover, the more routinized the use of ML_CDSS becomes in clinical practice, the more that physicians need to focus on the patient’s concern and strengthen patient autonomy, for instance, by adequately integrating digital decision support in shared decision-making.
  • Preprints in times of COVID19: the time is ripe for agreeing on terminology and good practices

    Raffaella Ravinetto; Céline Caillet; Muhammad H. Zaman; Jerome Amir Singh; Philippe J. Guerin; Aasim Ahmad; Carlos E. Durán; Amar Jesani; Ana Palmero; Laura Merson (BMC, 2021-07-01)
    Abstract Over recent years, the research community has been increasingly using preprint servers to share manuscripts that are not yet peer-reviewed. Even if it enables quick dissemination of research findings, this practice raises several challenges in publication ethics and integrity. In particular, preprints have become an important source of information for stakeholders interested in COVID19 research developments, including traditional media, social media, and policy makers. Despite caveats about their nature, many users can still confuse pre-prints with peer-reviewed manuscripts. If unconfirmed but already widely shared first-draft results later prove wrong or misinterpreted, it can be very difficult to “unlearn” what we thought was true. Complexity further increases if unconfirmed findings have been used to inform guidelines. To help achieve a balance between early access to research findings and its negative consequences, we formulated five recommendations: (a) consensus should be sought on a term clearer than ‘pre-print’, such as ‘Unrefereed manuscript’, “Manuscript awaiting peer review” or ‘’Non-reviewed manuscript”; (b) Caveats about unrefereed manuscripts should be prominent on their first page, and each page should include a red watermark stating ‘Caution—Not Peer Reviewed’; (c) pre-print authors should certify that their manuscript will be submitted to a peer-review journal, and should regularly update the manuscript status; (d) high level consultations should be convened, to formulate clear principles and policies for the publication and dissemination of non-peer reviewed research results; (e) in the longer term, an international initiative to certify servers that comply with good practices could be envisaged.
  • To disclose, or not to disclose? Perspectives of clinical genomics professionals toward returning incidental findings from genomic research

    Isamme AlFayyad; Mohamad Al-Tannir; Amani Abu-Shaheen; Saleh AlGhamdi (BMC, 2021-07-01)
    Abstract Background Clinical genomic professionals are increasingly facing decisions about returning incidental findings (IFs) from genetic research. Although previous studies have shown that research participants are interested in receiving IFs, yet there has been an argument about the extent of researcher obligation to return IFs. We aimed in this study to explore the perspectives of clinical genomics professionals toward returning incidental findings from genomic research. Methods We conducted a national survey of a sample (n = 113) of clinical genomic professionals using a convenient sampling. A self-administered questionnaire was used to explore their attitudes toward disclosure of IFs, their perception of the duties to return IFs and identifying the barriers for disclosure of IFs. A descriptive analysis was employed to describe participants' responses. Results Sixty-five (57.5%) respondents had faced IFs in their practice and 31 (27.4%) were not comfortable in discussing IFs with their research subjects. Less than one-third of the respondents reported the availability of guidelines governing IFs. The majority 84 (80%) and 69 (62.7%) of the study participants indicated they would return the IFs if the risk of disease threat ≥ 50% and 6–49%, respectively and 36 (31.9%) reported they have no obligation to return IFs. Conclusion Clinical genomics professionals have positive attitudes and perceptions toward the returning IFs from genomic research, yet some revealed no duty to do so. Detailed guidelines must be established to provide insights into how genomics professionals should be handled IFs.
  • A scoping review of considerations and practices for benefit sharing in biobanking

    Allan Sudoi; Jantina De Vries; Dorcas Kamuya (BMC, 2021-07-01)
    Abstract Background Despite the rapid global growth of biobanking over the last few decades, and their potential for the advancement of health research, considerations specific to the sharing of benefits that accrue from biobanks have received little attention. Questions such as the types and range of benefits that can arise in biobanking, who should be entitled to those benefits, when they should be provided, by whom and in what form remain mostly unanswered. We conducted a scoping review to describe benefit sharing considerations and practices in biobanking in order to inform current and future policy and practice. Methods Drawing on the Arksey and O’Malley framework, we conducted a scoping review of the literature in three online databases (PubMed, Cochrane library, and Google Scholar). We extracted and charted data to capture general characteristics, definitions and examples of benefits and benefit sharing, justification for benefit sharing, challenges in benefit sharing, governance mechanisms as well as proposed benefit sharing mechanisms. Results 29 articles published between 1999 and 2020 met the inclusion criteria for the study. The articles included 5 empirical and 24 non-empirical studies. Only 12 articles discussed benefit sharing as a stand-alone subject, while the remaining 17 integrated a discussion of benefits as one issue amongst others. Major benefit sharing challenges in biobanking were found to be those associated with uncertainties around the future use of samples and in resultant benefits. Conclusion Most of the benefit sharing definitions and approaches currently in use for biobanking are similar to those used in health research. These approaches may not recognise the distinct features of biobanking, specifically relating to uncertainties associated with the sharing and re-use of samples. We therefore support approaches that allow decisions about benefit sharing to be made progressively once it is apparent who samples are to be shared with, the intended purpose and expected benefits. We also highlight gaps in key areas informing benefit sharing in biobanking and draw attention to the need for further empirical research.
  • Effectiveness of data auditing as a tool to reinforce good research data management (RDM) practice: a Singapore study

    Hui Xing Lau; Ser Lin Celine Lee; Yusuf Ali (BMC, 2021-07-01)
    Abstract Background Institutions, funding agencies and publishers are placing increasing emphasis on good research data management (RDM). RDM lapses in medical science can result in questionable data and cause the public’s confidence in the scientific community to crumble. A fledgling medical school in a young university in Singapore has mandated every funded research project to have a data management plan (DMP). However, researchers’ adherence to their DMPs was unknown until the school embarked on routine data auditing. We hypothesize that research data auditing improves RDM awareness, compliance and reception in the school. Methods We conducted surveys with research PIs and researchers before and after data auditing to evaluate differences in self-reported RDM awareness, compliance and reception. As it is mandatory to deposit research data in a central data repository system in the school, we tracked data deposition by each laboratory from 2 weeks before to 3 months after data auditing as a marker of actual RDM compliance. Results Research data auditing had an overall positive effect on self-reported RDM awareness, compliance and reception for both research PIs and researchers. Research PIs agreed more that RDM was important to scientific reproducibility, were more aware of proper RDM, had higher RDM strength in their laboratories and were more compliant with the DMP. Both research PIs and researchers believed data auditing helped them to be more compliant with data deposition in the repository. However, data auditing had no significant impact on laboratories’ data deposition rates over time, which could be due to the short sampling period. Conclusions Research PIs and researchers generally felt that data auditing was effective in improving RDM practices. It helped to evaluate their RDM practices objectively, propose corrective actions for RDM lapses and spread awareness of the university’s data management policies. Our findings corroborated other studies in medical research, geosciences, engineering and ethics that data auditing promotes good RDM practices. Hence, we recommend research institutions worldwide to adopt data auditing as a tool to reinforce research integrity.
  • Does teaching medical ethics ensure good knowledge, attitude, and reported practice? An ethical vignette-based cross-sectional survey among doctors in a tertiary teaching hospital in Nepal

    Carmina Shrestha; Ashma Shrestha; Jasmin Joshi; Shuvechchha Karki; Sajan Acharya; Suchita Joshi (BMC, 2021-08-01)
    Abstract Background Importance of awareness of medical ethics and its integration into medical curriculum has been frequently highlighted. Study 1 aimed to assess the knowledge, attitude, and reported practices of medical ethics among clinicians at Patan Academy of Health Sciences, a tertiary care teaching hospital in Nepal. Study 2 was conducted to assess whether there was a difference in knowledge, attitude, and reported practices of medical ethics among doctors who received formal medical ethics education during undergraduate studies and those who did not. Methods Two cross-sectional surveys using self-administered questionnaires were conducted. Study 1 included 72 participants; interns, medical officers, and consultants working at Patan Academy of Health Sciences. Study 2 was a comparative study conducted among 54 medical officers who had received formal medical ethics education (Group 1) and 60 medical officers who did not (Group 2). Results Participants who had completed post-graduate education had higher knowledge (p = 0.050), practice (p < 0.001), and overall combined scores (p = 0.011). Participants with ethics education had higher knowledge (p < 0.001), attitude (p = 0.001), practice (p < 0.001), and overall score (p < 0.001). Most participants preferred consulting colleagues if an ethical dilemma arose. Fewer participants had heard of the Declaration of Helsinki. Most participants thought doctors to be most capable of judging what is best for the patient (Study 1: 70.42%, Study 2 Group 1: 42.59%, Group 2: 80%). Case scenarios in which participants demonstrated poor practice were ethical issues concerning truth-telling, end-of-life decisions, treating HIV/AIDS patients, treating a minor, and reporting colleague’s errors. Conclusions This study found that participants who have received medical ethics education have higher knowledge, attitude, and practice scores. The results further justify the need for medical ethics education to be a part of the core medical curriculum. A blame-free environment where seniors can be approached for advice should be created. Research ethics should also be given attention. During medical ethics training, ethical issues where doctors perform poorly should be given more priority and should be discussed in a country-specific context.
  • Motivation to participate and experiences of the informed consent process for randomized clinical trials in emergency obstetric care in Uganda

    Dan Kabonge Kaye (BMC, 2021-07-01)
    Abstract Background Informed consent, whose goal is to assure that participants enter research voluntarily after disclosure of potential risks and benefits, may be impossible or impractical in emergency research. In low resource settings, there is limited information on the experiences of the informed consent process for randomized clinical trials in the emergency care context. The objective of this study was to explore the experiences of the informed consent process and factors that motivated participation in two obstetrics and newborn care randomized clinical trials (RCTs). Methods This was a qualitative study conducted among former participants of RCTs in the emergency obstetric care context, conducted at Kawempe National Referral Hospital, Uganda. It employed 30 in-depth interviews conducted from June 1, 2019 to August 30, 2019. Issues explored included attitudes about research, the purpose of the research in which they participated, motivations to take part in the study, factors that influenced enrolment decisions, and experiences of the informed consent process. Results Respondents felt that research was necessary to investigate the cause, prevention or complications of illness. The decisions to participate were influenced by hope for material or therapeutic benefit, trust in the healthcare system and influence of friends and family members. Many were satisfied with the informed consent process, though they did not understand some aspects of the research. Conclusion Respondents valued participation in RCTs in emergency obstetric and newborn care. Hope for benefit, altruism, desire to further scientific knowledge and trust in the investigators featured prominently in the motivation to participate. Both intrinsic and extrinsic factors were motivators for RCT participation.
  • Caregiver reactions to neuroimaging evidence of covert consciousness in patients with severe brain injury: a qualitative interview study

    Andrew Peterson; Fiona Webster; Laura Elizabeth Gonzalez-Lara; Sarah Munce; Adrian M. Owen; Charles Weijer (BMC, 2021-07-01)
    Abstract Background Severe brain injury is a leading cause of death and disability. Diagnosis and prognostication are difficult, and errors occur often. Novel neuroimaging methods can improve diagnostic and prognostic accuracy, especially in patients with prolonged disorders of consciousness (PDoC). Yet it is currently unknown how family caregivers understand this information, raising ethical concerns that disclosure of neuroimaging results could result in therapeutic misconception or false hope. Methods To examine these ethical concerns, we conducted semi-structured interviews with caregivers of patients with PDoC who were enrolled in a concurrent neuroimaging research program designed to detect covert consciousness following severe brain injury. Caregivers held surrogate decision-making status for a patient. Interviews were conducted at two time points for each caregiver. The first interview occurred before the disclosure of neuroimaging results. The second occurred after disclosure. Descriptive analysis was applied to the data of four interview topics: (1) expectations for neuroimaging; (2) reactions to evidence of preserved cognition; (3) reactions to null results; and (4) understanding of the results and study. Results Twelve caregivers participated in the study; two caregivers shared surrogate decision-making status for one patient with PDoC. Twenty-one interviews were completed; one caregiver declined to participate in the post-disclosure interview. Three patients with PDoC associated with the study displayed evidence of covert consciousness. Overall, caregivers understood the neuroimaging research and results. Caregivers who received results of covert consciousness were generally pleased. However, there was some variation in expectations and reactions to these data and null results. Conclusion This study, for the first time, reveals caregiver expectations for and reactions to neuroimaging evidence of covert consciousness in patients with PDoC. Caregivers understood the neuroimaging research and results, casting doubt on speculative ethical concerns regarding therapeutic misconception and false hope. However, disclosure of neuroimaging result could be improved. Pre-disclosure consultations might assist professionals in shaping caregiver expectations. Standardization of disclosure might also improve comprehension of the results.
  • Personalized and long-term electronic informed consent in clinical research: stakeholder views

    Evelien De Sutter; Pascal Borry; David Geerts; Isabelle Huys (BMC, 2021-07-01)
    Abstract Background The landscape of clinical research has evolved over the past decade. With technological advances, the practice of using electronic informed consent (eIC) has emerged. However, a number of challenges hinder the successful and widespread deployment of eIC in clinical research. Therefore, we aimed to investigate the views of various stakeholders on the potential advantages and challenges of eIC. Methods Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 39 participants from 5 stakeholder groups from across 11 European countries. The stakeholder groups included physicians, patient organization representatives, regulator representatives, ethics committee members, and pharmaceutical industry representatives, and all were involved in clinical research. Interviews were analyzed using the framework method. Results Interviewees identified that a powerful feature of eIC is its personalized approach as it may increase participant empowerment. However, they identified several ethical and practical challenges, such as ensuring research participants are not overloaded with information and offering the same options to research participants who would prefer a paper-based informed consent rather than eIC. According to the interviewees, eIC has the potential to establish efficient long-term interactions between the research participants and the research team in order to keep the participants informed during and after the study. Interviewees emphasized that a personal interaction with the research team is of utmost importance and this cannot be replaced by an electronic platform. In addition, interviewees across the stakeholder groups supported the idea of having a harmonized eIC approach across the European Member States. Conclusions Interviewees reported a range of design and implementation challenges which needs to be overcome to foster innovation in informing research participants and obtaining their consent electronically. It was considered important that the implementation of eIC runs alongside the face-to-face contact between research participants and the research team. Moreover, interviewees expect that eIC could offer the opportunity to enable a personalized approach and to strengthen continuous communication over time. If successfully implemented, eIC may facilitate the engagement of research participants in clinical research.

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