Ethics: Respect for Persons
With the increasing relevance of human-centered designs in the technological-based industry, user-centered researches become more and more common in order to gather information and decide which design is best suited for the specific type of users. As with any form of experimentation with human subjects, ethics become involved in the process of receiving consent from the individual participant. One of the most important ethic to consider is called respect for persons, which entails two important convictions; that individuals should be treated like autonomous agents and that those with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection (Ryan et al). An autonomous agent refers to someone capable of making conscious choices and taking responsibility for that choice. A misunderstanding that someone who has not read the Belmont Report might make is that they believe that every participant is entitled to being considered an autonomous agent. This however can prove to be faulty as someone who is not capable of self-determination is given the right to make choices for themselves that could eventually put them in harm.
Several dilemmas may occur during human subject experimentation in relations to respect for persons. One dilemma may come from the information aspect that is provided to the human participant. While informing the subject of the details of the experiment is important, there comes a conflict between the objective of the experiment and the provision of sufficient information for the participant. Similarly, another dilemma may occur from how to provide the information to the participant in a manner that would be comprehensible to the level of understanding that the participant possess. Finally, there is also the dilemma on deciding whether the third party for the participants with diminished autonomy is making a decision in the best interest for said participant.
One example of protection for the diminished autonomy comes from a research done upon ethical issues in minor’s video game habits, where the participants are mostly underage children in their pre-teens (Hodge et al). While these underage subjects may have given consent to being willing participants in the research, there is still the question that remains of whether being a pre-teen is of having enough maturity to fully understand and grasp the capacity of the information presented to them. In the research paper, the parents were seen as the third party to provide the details of the experiment to and to make the decision of whether or not they would allow their child to participate in the research (Hodge et al). A consent form was given to the parents to read through and sign with the inclusion of the child’s agreement in order to participate (Hodge et al). The researchers decided to protect the diminished autonomy of the children by choosing third parties who are most likely to be able to understand the subject’s situation and act out on their behalf for their best interest. In this case, it was the parents of these underage participants. While the human participants in the research are mostly those with diminished autonomy, because the topic of the research requires the involvement and perspectives that can only be given from these underage children, the experiment is allowed to proceed as the goal of the research is being fulfilled.
In my ideation project for a sustainable way of commuting within the city, one of the many ideas I sketched out included a picture of a bicycle-powered hot air balloon as a form of transportation. While this was not the final idea I had decided upon and is just a developing design, I later came to realization that although creative and interesting, it was not a safe concept for any user to follow through with and extremely inconvenient. The basis of this idea was that the bicycle would be attached to a hot air balloon, which keeps the user floating in the air. The relative speed and direction of where to navigate would be controlled by the user on how fast they pedal and where they steer the handles. This design will likely be unable to attract the attentions of commuters and citizens, which this idea was geared towards; however, it may be likely in attracting the attention of young children who are considered to be participants with diminished autonomy as they do not have the maturity necessary to comprehend what the possible consequences may come from the bicycle-powered hot air balloon. This case would be similar to the research done on minors’ video game habits where a third party would be contacted in order to protect the diminished autonomy of the children. The third party would be a legal guardian, typically parents of the child, as they typically look out for the best interest of their children. The information provided would detail the necessary components of how to function the transport and the possible situations that may occur as well as a safety protocol on how to act during certain scenarios. However, this idea contains many flaws and would require more thorough research in order for a prototype to be designed in order to test out the users’ willingness to use the method of sustainable transportation.
Ryan, Kenneth John, Joseph V. Brady, Robert E. Cooke, Dorothy I. Height,Albert R. Jonsen, Patricia King, Karen Lebacqz, David W. Louisell, Donald W. Seldin, Elliot Stellar, and Robert H. Turtle. “The Belmont Report.” HHS.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.
Hodge, Sarah, Jacqui Taylor, and McAlaney John. “Restricted Content: Ethical Issues with Researching Minor’s Video Game Habits.” ACM, n.d. Print. 16 May. 2017.