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Bull Soc Pathol Exot. 2008 Apr;101(2):77-84.

[Medical research-ethics applied to social sciences: relevance, limits, issues and necessary adjustments].

[Article in French]

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CReCSS (Centre de recherche Cultures, Santé, Sociétés, Aix-en-Provence cedex.


Social sciences are concretely concerned by the ethics of medical research when they deal with topics related to health, since they are subjected to clearance procedures specific to this field. This raises at least three questions: - Are principles and practices of medical research ethics and social science research compatible? - Are "research subjects" protected by medical research ethics when they participate in social science research projects? - What can social sciences provide to on-going debates and reflexion in this field? The analysis of the comments coming from ethics committees about social science research projects, and of the experience of implementation of these projects, shows that the application of international ethics standards by institutional review boards or ethics committees raises many problems in particular for researches in ethnology anthropology and sociology. These problems may produce an impoverishment of research, pervert its meaning, even hinder any research. They are not only related to different norms, but also to epistemological divergences. Moreover, in the case of studies in social sciences, the immediate and differed risks, the costs, as well as the benefits for subjects, are very different from those related to medical research. These considerations are presently a matter of debates in several countries such as Canada, Brasil, and USA. From another hand, ethics committees seem to have developed without resorting in any manner to the reflexion carried out within social sciences and more particularly in anthropology Still, the stakes of the ethical debates in anthropology show that many important and relevant issues have been discussed. Considering this debate would provide openings for the reflexion in ethics of health research. Ethnographic studies of medical research ethics principles and practices in various sociocultural contexts may also contribute to the advancement of medical ethics. A "mutual adjustment" between ethics of medical research and social sciences is presently necessary: it raises new questions open for debate.

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