Tuesday, April 01, 2008

They meant no harm



They meant no harm
by ah (2007)

There's nothing left
no loopholes,
no gaps.
Sewn up so tight.
Dot the i's, cross the t's.
are you sure there's a comma after an 'and'?
A part of me died;
sacrificed to the ethical lie:
'First do no harm', they said.
'First do no good',
I sigh


In Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell describes her desire to write looking back, distanced by both time and place. I too would like this perspective but am caught in the moment. She writes, looking back "they meant no harm."

Being 'in the moment' I can only hope to enjoy the selective amnesia where one day I may be able to say; 'it was all for the best', or 'i learnt so much from it'...
Being 'in the moment', I want so much more more than this, I want it written "there is goodness here".

I am blessed with two ethical panels having the focus of my doctoral research application.
I do not feel twice blessed.
I feel twice vulnerable.
Powell and Smith (2006) reviewed the literature on ethical guidelines for research with children: a review of current research ethics documentation in New Zealand. Their discussion confirms my misgivings.
In all the rhetoric of concern for the voice of young people, the capacity for consent is denied, though a capacity for assent is identified as desirable.
In being risk aversive, the risk is also that young people are denied the right to shape services that suit them.

They cite "Like many other minority groups, children lack power and have often
been silenced, unheard, unprotected, and viewed as “unpeople” (John, 2003).

The summary of their findings indicate an increase in the consideration of ethical issues, but that existing documentation is inconsistent and inadequate in attending to specific child-related issues. Suggestions are made to enhance children’s participation in research and demonstrate a respect for their participation rights.

Sounds good. However, practice is that ethics tends to be considered as a one off event rather than a sustained process. Frightening is that the use of ethics committees for the big tick (or not) further feeds into this one off event where thoughtfulness can then be abdicated. Furthermore, the interest shown by ethics committee deliberations may be less about risk to participants, less again about risks to participants before or after the study, and more about the risk aversion or minimisation, to the institution through which the study is conducted.


Judith Bessant (2007) published in the Australian Journal of Political Science, 39(2), 387-404 takes off the kid gloves on this; there are mixed messages about youth participation and democratic practices. Lots of rhetoric about rights and consultation, but little about shifting the power base.
My glass only feels half full today.

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