Ethical Issues in Research and Proposal Writing

Proposal Writing, Swk 525

Robin Medalen & Sheila Landberg


Ethics is defined as a system of moral principles and perceptions about right versus wrong and the resulting philosophy of conduct that is practiced by an individual, group, profession, or culture (Barker, 1999).

Social Workers need to follow a code of ethics to make sure the client=s rights are respected.

Code of Ethics is an explicit statement of the values, principles, and rules of a profession, regulating the conduct of its members.

NASW Code of Ethics is the explication of the values, rules, and principles of ethical conduct that apply to all social workers who are members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The original Code of Ethics for social workers was implicit in the 1951 Standards for Professional Practice of the American Association of Social Workers (AASW). NASW developed a formal code in 1960 and has made subsequent revisions (Mattaini, Lowery & Meyer, 2002). �����������������

Roles of Values in Social Workers = Decision Making

1. Social services programs and other institutions in which social workers are employed have all been established to serve specific populations and to accomplish definite purposes.

2. Decisions made by individual practitioners about service objectives and priorities in different cases reflect value choices about which are most important.

3. Time and resources are chronically scarce in human services agencies, social workers must frequently make choices about the amount of time they will devote to different activities with different clients and which clients will be granted access to supplementary benefits such as summer camp opportunities for children, food vouchers, or psychiatric consultation.

4. Limitations in empirically based social work knowledge and a relative absence of the middle-range theories required to guide practice, social workers often resort to personal value preferences when deciding which theoretical approach or modality to employ in a specific case (Mattaini et al, 2002).

Shifts in Professional Ethical Concerns:

1. Late 19th Century, friendly visitors who volunteered in such agencies as the Charity Organization Society and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor focused their concerns primarily on the morality of their clients.

2. Settlement house movement development began the shift around the turn of the century.

-leading figures raised persistent questions about the morality of social and economic institutions that denied poor people the opportunity to care properly for themselves and their children.

-1920's social workers began to examine the morality of the profession itself and to discuss how best to define professional ethics.

-Reason for the relative inattention to professional ethics from the 1930s to 1950s was that Athe early years of the profession also happened to coincide with an era in which science and the scientific method were in the academic limelight@ During this period social work, like other professions, focused on issues that could be addressed empirically, not on ethical and value concerns.

-1970s professional education emphasized basic knowledge of the social work values that underscore professional identity and practice.

-Shift in orientation has been demonstrated by the introduction of many graduate and undergraduate courses on ethics and by the publication of multiple articles and texts on the topic of social work ethics.

Based on the principle of generic consistency, Frederic Reamer (1998) formulated six rules or guidelines that can be used to analyze and resolve ethical dilemmas in social work.

(Stated in order of priority, with the higher order principles taking precedence over the lower ones.)

1. Rules against basic harm to the necessary preconditions of action

2. An individual=s right to basic well-being

3. An individual=s right to self-determination takes precedence over his or her own right to basic well-being.

4. Obligation to obey laws, rules, and regulations to which one has voluntarily and freely consented ordinarily overrides one=s right to engage voluntarily and freely in a manner that conflicts with these laws, rules, and regulations.

5. Individuals= rights to well-being may override laws, rules, regulations, and arrangements of voluntary associations in cases of conflict.

6. The obligation to prevent basic harm such as starvation and to promote public

� ���������goods such as housing, education, and public assistance overrides the��������

right to complete control over one=s property.

Ethical Principles Screen

1. Principle of the protection of life

2. Principle of equality and inequality

3. Principle of autonomy and freedom

4. Principle of least harm

5. Principle of quality of life

6. Principle of privacy and confidentiality

7. Principle of truthfulness and full disclosure

Ethical Issues in Research and Evaluation

The violation of clients= rights and the abandonment of ethical principles concerning research and evaluation are no more tolerable than are the ethical violations and misconduct that occur in direct practice with individuals, families, couples, and groups or in indirect practice involving community organizing, social policy, agency administration, and social action (Reamer, 1998).


The trial of the Nazi doctors at Nuremberg in 1945 was the beginning of the tragic history in research ethics. Unethical medical experiments on Jews, gypsies, and political prisoners were performed by sixteen German physicians. �These legal proceedings documented and publicized in unprecedented fashion the harm that can be caused by unethical research. Unconsenting prisoners were exposed to inhumane experiments causing pain and suffering. In 1947, the Nuremberg Code and other international codes of ethics were written to protect research participants. Certain basic

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principles must be observed in order to satisfy moral, ethical and legal concepts:

1. Voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential

2. �Experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.

3. �Experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.

4. Experiment should be conducted to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.

5. No experiment should be conducted where there is a prior reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.

6. The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.

7. Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.

8. Experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons.

9. Human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state during the course of the experiment.

10. The scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage during the course of the experiment (, 2003).

In 1971, Stanford University students participated in a study on prison life. The students were paid a small amount of money to take part in this study. The researchers divided the students into two groups, one group was prisoners and the other prison guards. The experiment intended on studying the Apower of roles, rules, symbols, group identity and situational validation of behavior...@ (, 1997). The experiment took place in the basement of one of the buildings at the school. The researcher ended the study a week early because of the situations taking place within the experiment. The prison guards became increasingly aggressive and coercive with the prisoners. Some claimed that they were only playing their part but it was later found that acts of punishment were put on the prisoners when no researchers were around. Therefore, the guards did not think anyone would know of this behavior. In spite of �the researcher=s claims that this experiment was ethical in most ways, he did admit that it was unethical Abecause people suffered and others were allowed to inflict pain and humiliation on their fellows over an extended period of time@ (, 1997).

Although each of these studies provided interesting information, is that information worth the risks of doing harm to those involved? The Institutional Review Board was not around when these studies took place but has been established in part because of situations such as these. There was no protection for people participating in studies during the time these famous studies occurred but we now have the IRB to assure the least amount of harm possible. According to Reamer (1998), all organizations and agencies are required to have an Institutional Review Board to review ethical aspects of research proposals involving human subjects if they wish to receive federal funds. The purpose of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) is to increase the probability that research will be conducted ethically.

Information regarding the University of North Dakota=s Institutional Review Board can be found online at:

The role of the IRB is to protect the rights and welfare of individual research subjects.

This goal is accomplished by having the IRB assure that the following requirements are satisfied:

1. Risks to subjects are minimized

2. Risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits

3. Selection of subjects is equitable

4. Informed consent is sought from each subject or his/her legally authorized representative

5. Informed consent is appropriately documented

6. When appropriate, the research plan makes provisions for monitoring data collection

7. Privacy and confidentiality of research subjects are appropriately protected, and

8. When some or all of the subjects are likely to be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence, additional safeguards have been included.

The IRB has to approve these requirements are followed before approval of a research study and must be reviewed on, at the least, an annual basis.


Barker, R. (1999). The social work dictionary. (4th ed.) NASW Press.

Korn, J.H. (1997). Illusions of reality: A history of deception in social psychology. State

University of New York Press, Albany.

Marsden, S. & Melander, M. Historical cases of unethical research. Retrieved February

21, 2003, from

Mattaini, M.A., Lowery, C.T., & Meyer, C.H. (2002). Foundations of social work practice.

(3rd ed.). NASW Press.

The Milgram experiment: A lesson in depravity, peer pressure, and the power

of authority . Retrieved March 1, 2003, from

The Nuremberg Code . Retrieved February 24, 2003, from

O=Toole, K. (1997). The Stanford prison experiment: Still powerful after all these years.

Retrieved March1, 2003, from

Reamer, F. (1998). Social work research and evaluation skills. New York: Columbia

University Press.

Stanley Milgram = s experiment: Obedience and individual responsibility . Retrieved

February 21, 2003, from


Stevens, W. (2000). Ethical issues in proposal writing. Retrieved January 28, 2003, from


Category: Research proposal

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