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Moral injury and the need to carry out ethically responsible research

November, 2020
Article:

This review is a response to the rapid expansion in moral injury research. The review details the potential risks to participants who take part in moral injury research and how to mitigate against these in an ethically responsible way. Those conducting the research may also be presented with ethical issues as a result of disclosures during research, as well as being negatively affected by exposure to vicarious trauma.  The review concludes by making recommendations to researchers, research ethics committees and professional bodies to ensure that research into moral injury is conducted in the most ethically responsible way.

Abstract

The need for research to advance scientific understanding must be balanced with ensuring the rights and wellbeing of participants are safeguarded, with some research topics posing more ethical quandaries for researchers than others. Moral injury is one such topic. Exposure to potentially morally injurious experiences can lead to significant distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and selfinjury. In this article, we discuss how the rapid expansion of research in the field of moral injury could threaten the wellbeing, dignity and integrity of participants. We also examine key guidance for carrying out ethically responsible research with participants’ rights to self-determination, confidentiality, non-maleficence and beneficence discussed in relation to the study of moral injury. We describe how investigations of moral injury are likely to pose several challenges for researchers including managing disclosures of potentially illegal acts, the risk of harm that repeated questioning about guilt and shame may pose to participant wellbeing in longitudinal studies, as well as the possible negative impact of exposure to vicarious trauma on researchers themselves. Finally, we offer several practical recommendations that researchers, research ethics committees and other regulatory bodies can take to protect participant rights, maximise the potential benefits of research outputs and ensure the field continues to expand in an ethically responsible way.

Full Reference

Williamson, V. et al. (2020) ‘Moral injury and the need to carry out ethically responsible research’, Research Ethics. doi: 10.1177/1747016120969743.

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