Ethics Interlude 2: Respect for Persons

Part 1: Critical Understanding


Respect for persons has a particular focus on autonomy that those who have not read the Belmont Report may not know. The term respect may thus be loosely interpreted for them as general consideration; but, according to the Belmont Report, respect for persons is more specifically described as both acknowledging the autonomy of every individual by respecting their thoughts and decisions while not showing opposition to their choices (unless it is harmful to other people), and protecting those with “diminished autonomy”: those who are less capable of making their own decisions, such as minors or the mentally ill (National Commission).

Not Easy

Respect for persons also touches upon informed consent. This includes deciding what information is important for users to know, how it is relayed to them, and if the consent was voluntarily given without threat and/or “undue influence” (offered an inappropriate reward or proposal) (National Commission). Unfortunately, it’s not always clear how to properly apply this principle. One example is for researching prisoners: with prison conditions, prisoners may be coerced or unduly influenced to participate; but, at the same time there is also the dilemma of not depriving prisoners of volunteer opportunities (National Commission). I think another example that can cause problems with involved users is for incapacitated individuals who have the ambulance called for them, but not with their consent. In the U.S., the person who the ambulance is called for is subject to a bill; however, if said individual did not want an ambulance called for them in that situation this may cause a problem. This general scenario may be controversial because on one hand, someone who is incapacitated may be in dire need of medical assistance; but on the other hand, they may not want to be liable for the charges that come with it. There is also a grey area where it may not be easy to tell if a particular person needs medical attention or not, or, the person may not be incapacitated but are in a possibly bad (but unclear) position to be making sound judgments on whether or not to accept an ambulance or not. Here, it could be difficult making the right decisions under the principle to acknowledge their autonomy but at the same time protect them under diminished circumstances.

Part 2: Application

Research Example: Ethical Issues with Researching Minor’s Video Game Habits

This reference situation was about researching minors who play video games that are rated for audiences above their current age, along with the ethical problems that arise from such research. Acknowledging the autonomy of the minors whom they research would first include respecting their opinions and choices on the games they play without trying to get in the way of such decisions. For example if I was a researcher who didn’t like a game a research participant played and disagreed on them playing it at all, I wouldn’t show such disapproval; nor would I try to stop them from playing it. This also involves the parents/guardians of said minors, as they play a part in their children’s participation in the research:“a balance needs to be created between informing parents without making them feel judged if their children are playing games rated above their age” (Hodge et al.).

The other side of it would be knowing that since they are minors, they are subject to diminished autonomy. “The participant’s willingness to engage with the study and to share game play could have been unintentionally encouraged by the researcher, as the adolescents could have recognized the researcher’s passion for gaming and wanted to reciprocate” (Hodge et al.). This quote shows that researchers have to take extra care when dealing with minors playing games that are not rated/intended for them; while researchers should not try to obstruct the minors’ actions, they should also watch how they carry out the research so they do not unintentionally influence minors: “Extra consideration may be needed when studying children’s gaming habits due to this age group being much younger and potentially more vulnerable and susceptible as represented by the large gap between their chronological age and rating of games being played” (Hodge et al.).

Design Example

For one of my ideation sketches, I came up with a “sky coaster” that would function like a roller coaster to swiftly carry people between far-off destinations in a single city. However, I did not choose it as most promising because it exposed individuals to more danger than others.

Acknowledging autonomy here would be letting people use the transportation method if they so choose; without judgement or uncalled-for opposition. However, due to possible dangers, those with diminished autonomy should be subject to exceptions. Children/minors who do not meet certain safety qualifications, for example, should not be allowed to ride (just like other roller coasters in generic amusement parks). Another example would be that pregnant women and obviously (in my opinion) incapacitated individuals should also not be allowed to ride: it may be unhealthy for the woman and potentially dangerous for an unborn child or an incapacitated person.

As far as supporting the informed consent of riders/users, important information ranging from safety concerns and qualifications to destinations should be provided. If there are people that should not be riding the “sky coaster”, it should be explicitly and concisely stated for all potential users (such as through a sign.) For qualifications, like height requirements or for minors who are qualified otherwise to be accompanied by an adult or guardian; this should also be obviously stated for anyone to easily be aware of. This goes for destinations as well, as it is important for users to know where they are being taken. Supervisors could be employed to assure everyone meets the requirements and is readily informed before leaving in the “sky coaster” as well. However, as the respect for person policy is stated, no individual would be forced or threatened to ride the “sky coaster”; only those who so choose to ride and are properly qualified.

Works Cited

Hodge, Sarah, Jacqui Taylor, and John McAlaney. Restricted Content: Ethical Issues with Researching Minor’s Video Game Habits. Rep. ACM, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017.

National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. “The Belmont Report.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. Accessed 15 May. 2017.

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