The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Applying the Belmont principles to physical anthropology


Anthropology, Queens College, CUNY

Saturday 8:15-8:30, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Respect for persons, beneficence, and justice are the three basic ethical principles discussed in the 1978 Belmont Report. These principles were the foundation of human subjects’ regulations in the United States and continue to guide IRBs and researchers. This paper explores how the Belmont principles can be used by physical anthropologists and considers how the application of the principles is complicated by some of the unusual characteristics of physical anthropology research.

Physical anthropologists regularly employ the principle of respect for persons when they obtain voluntary and informed research participation and give additional protections to vulnerable populations such as children. But physical anthropologists may need to widen this principle beyond its original description, for example when they work with groups where the individual is not considered autonomous or with populations that have little understanding of what research is. Beneficence entails protecting research participants from harm. Physical anthropology research does not commonly involve the possibility of physical harm, but our research can present emotional, social and psychological risks. The principle of justice calls for the fair distribution of the burdens of research. An important illustration of a situation where this principle is relevant to physical anthropology is research with disadvantaged populations. As the authors of the Belmont Report noted, the application of the three principles does not always lead to clear resolution of ethical questions, and this is certainly evident in physical anthropology.

comments powered by Disqus