Towards a humanitarian research ethics


  • Dr Annette Rid

Project summary

Disasters are natural or human-related events, such as earthquakes or wars that vastly outstep the affected societies’ ability to cope. Disasters frequently have a devastating impact on individual and population health requiring an urgent humanitarian response. Yet the evidence base for humanitarian health interventions is widely considered insufficient, raising ethical concern over the effectiveness of the existing interventions. More humanitarian health research is urgently needed. However, the ethics of conducting such research is both complex and distinctive. Disasters often involve profound uncertainty and resource constraints, heightened vulnerability, pre-existing injustices, and numerous actors with diverging values and beliefs. To date, the resulting ethical challenges have not been adequately addressed – as was sorely illustrated by the controversy around clinical trials in the ongoing Ebola outbreak. This project aims to take the first steps towards a robust humanitarian health research ethics.

The project has three goals: 1) To systematically review the existing literature on the ethics of conducting clinical and public health research in disaster situations 2) To identify and interview key stakeholders about the unsolved ethical challenges in conducting such research 3) To develop a larger empirical bioethics project on humanitarian health research ethics.