American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

ASHA's Code of Ethics Modified to Address Research Ethics

by William Mustain

(This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2003 issue of The ASHA Leader, and describes revisions incorporated into the 2003 version of the Code of Ethics. See Code of Ethics for the current version.)

The ASHA Code of Ethics is not a static document. The code is revised as needed to reflect the evolution of the professions. The Board of Ethics has responsibility to propose and formulate such revisions. The Board of Ethics evaluates the need for code revisions in light of current professional practices, trends in code violations, and input from ASHA members, leaders, and staff.

When modifications are needed, the board formulates draft revisions, which are sent for both select and widespread peer review. The board then analyzes the feedback from peer review, makes further revisions, and finally, sends a resolution with the proposed code revisions to the Legislative Council (LC). This process is often a lengthy one, but by necessity, since the code forms standards of behavior for the professions. The most recent revisions to the code, passed by the LC in November of 2002, were the culmination of more than two years work by the Board of Ethics.

In August of 2000, the Board of Ethics began working on a revision of an Issues in Ethics Statement, "Ethics in Research and Professional Practice." The revised statement was approved and published as ASHA Leader Supplement 22. Prompted by this revision process and suggestions from the Association's research community, the board began consideration of possible modifications to the code dealing with research and scholarship.

A subcommittee, chaired by Charissa Lansing, was charged with evaluating the need for code modifications and developing proposals for consideration by the Board of Ethics. The subcommittee's proposed revisions were reviewed, edited, and approved by the board and sent for select and then widespread peer review. At the August 2002 meeting, the Board of Ethics passed a final version of the proposed code revisions. In September 2002, the proposed changes were filed as a resolution and submitted for consideration by the LC. The resolution was passed overwhelmingly by the LC at the November 2002 ASHA Convention and the revised Code of Ethics became effective in January 2003.

Prior to the November 2002 revision, the code contained four specific references to ethics in research. Principle of Ethics I, rule N, addressed the rights and welfare of participants in research, while Principle of Ethics III, rule F, and Principle of Ethics IV, rules E and F, addressed public statements about research results. However, the integration of research ethics into all aspects of professional activity covered by the code was not evident. Important aspects of research ethics, such as informed consent, confidentiality, humane treatment of animals, and appropriate maintenance of research data were not specifically addressed.

The following is a summary of the revisions to the Code of Ethics designed to remedy these identified shortcomings.

Preamble

Revisions to the Preamble extend the professions covered to include "speech, language, and hearing scientists" and expand the fundamentals of ethical conduct described to include "research and scholarly activities." The Board of Ethics recognizes that, although the conduct of most researchers is regulated by an Institutional Review Board (IRB), there are practitioners involved in independent research-related activities not within the purview of an IRB. For these professionals, the BOE may be the only mechanism for dealing with an ethics issue.

Principle of Ethics I

Revisions to this Principle of Ethics address the welfare of participants in research and scholarly activities and the humane treatment of animals used for research. Principle of Ethics I, Rule C, addresses nondiscrimination in the conduct of research and scholarly activities, while Principle of Ethics I, Rule F, deals with issues of informed consent. Principles of Ethics I, Rules K, L, and M, address security of research records, confidentiality, and misrepresentation of research data, respectively.

Principle of Ethics II

This Principle of Ethics deals with professional competency, and revisions address competency to conduct research (Principle of Ethics II, Rule E) and the maintenance of research equipment (Principle of Ethics, Rule F).

Principle of Ethics III

Revisions to this principle expand professionals' responsibilities to the public to include the provision of honest and accurate information regarding individual contributions to research activities (Principle of Ethics, Rules A, D, and E).

William Mustain is assistant professor and chief of the Division of Communicative Sciences, and director of the Communicative Disorders Department and Vestibular Laboratory, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. He has been a member of the Board of Ethics since 2001. Contact him by e-mail at wmustain@ent.umsmed.edu.

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