One of the main purposes of human research ethics review is to prevent the harm of participants or society as a result of research. Many of the past harms to human participants from research activities were within the realm of medical research, and these atrocities led to international guidelines for the treatment of human participants in research. Here in Canada, our national guideline is the Tri-Council Policy Statement for Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2-2022), and this policy takes a proactive approach to preventing the harm of human participants in research by upholding the three core principles: Respect for Persons, Concern for Welfare, and Justice. In upholding these principles as defined in the TCPS2-2022, issues such as informed consent, voluntary participation in research, data confidentiality, assessment of the risks versus the benefits of participating, addressing real or potential conflicts of interest, and others are applicable to both medical research and non-medical research (such as interviews or surveys). While some of the requirements of the TCPS2-2022 may seem overly strict for human participant research in the social sciences and humanities, the same three core principles apply and must be upheld to protect human participants, society, and researchers.
While some of the questions in the ethics application form may seem daunting, it is important to keep in mind that the process requires us to consider these important and complex questions for good reasons that will ultimately improve the outcomes of our research, the validity of our data, and the safety of everyone involved.
It is also important to recognize that our current human research ethics process reflects a colonized, Eurocentric point of view. Going forward, we are hoping to incorporate more Indigenous values such as knowledge sharing, but we acknowledge that we have a long way to go.