An informative presentation on a controversial subject took place at St. F.X.’s Gerald Schwartz School of Business April 4.
Randy Ellis, currently holding the Dr. H. Stanley and Doreen Alley Heaps research chair in computer science at St. F.X., gave an hour and a half presentation as part of the Academic Vice-President’s Distinguished Lecture Series in Arts and Sciences.
Ellis’ presentation was titled Practical Bioethics: A Brief History and Personal Perspective on Research Involving Human Subjects.
“I thought it was really good,” Ellis said about the evening and well-attended event. “I was pleased to see people from undergraduates, members of the community and, of course, members of the academy.”
After talking for a short time about his work as research chair in computer-assisted surgery at Queen’s University, where he is appointed to the School of Computing and cross-appointed to the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and the Department of Surgery, Ellis reviewed some general ethics principals.
“(Principles) that an ordinary person probably already understands intuitively and I simply laid them out in a structured manner,” Ellis said.
“Then I went through the very sad stories of some of the big mistakes that have been made in ethics involving human subjects, mainly involving medical research. I closed the talk with a description of how we try and manage these today including how we have ethics boards,” he added.
Ellis said the “sad stories” range from experiments done on poor black men in the U.S. to what he referred to as off-shore medical research.
“In third-world countries that don’t have the same control as places like Canada, the U.S. and Europe,” he said.
In talking about the progress towards ethical practices, Ellis noted the 1978 Belmont Report and its focus on three fundamental principles.
The principles are; respect for persons – protecting the autonomy of all people and treating them with courtesy and respect and allowing for informed consent (researchers must be truthful and conduct no deception), beneficence – the philosophy of “do no harm” while maximizing benefits for the research project and minimizing risks to the research subjects, and justice – ensuring reasonable, non-exploitative, and well-considered procedures are administered fairly (the fair distribution of costs and benefits to potential research participants) and equally.
Ellis said the presentation, a first for him on the subject, came from a conversation with St. F.X. academic vice-president and Provost Mary McGillivray.
“She was noting my rather eclectic background, which includes a degree in philosophy and computer science and in particular medical research, and wanted to know if it was possible for me to tie all these together in one grand talk that would address some current concerns in the ethics of doing research involving human subjects,” Ellis said.
“The arts and sciences have much in common in ideas, in intellectual history and in shared avenues of curiosity and inquiry,” McGillivray said in talking about the lecture series.
“The series is intended to help further conversations and debate across disciplines among both faculty and students,” she added.
Ellis has been at St. F.X. since early January and is slated to leave at the end of April.
“Although I’ll probably be here for another week,” he said. “My time here is spent working with people in the local community, with colleagues here in the department of math, statistics and computer science and, in particular, I have been giving lectures to undergraduates and having meetings with faculty members.”