ASHA Code of Ethics and Research

by James McCartney

(This article originally appeared in the September 24, 2002 issue of The ASHA Leader.)

The ASHA Code of Ethics lists four principles. These principles relate to one's responsibility to the welfare of persons, competence, the public, and colleagues. Any action that violates these principles, including those relating to research, violates the spirit and purpose of the Code.

In case there is any doubt that research is included in this code, it is mentioned in several rules. Principle of Ethics I, Rule K, states that "Individuals shall use persons in research or as subjects of teaching demonstrations only with their informed consent." Principle of Ethics III, Rule E, states that "Individuals' statements to the public—advertising, announcing, and marketing their professional services, reporting research results, and promoting products—shall adhere to prevailing professional standards and shall not contain misrepresentations." Lastly, Principle of Ethics IV, Rule D, states, "Individuals ' statements to colleagues about professional services, research results, and products shall adhere to prevailing professional standards and shall contain no misrepresentations."

There are other areas in which the word research does not appear but, by implication, any reasonable body would include research within the rule. For example, Principle of Ethics IV, Rule B, states that "Individuals shall not engage in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or any form of conduct that adversely reflects on the professions" and Rule C states "Individuals shall assign credit only to those who have contributed to a publication, presentation, or product. Credit shall be assigned in proportion to the contribution and only with the contributor's consent." Therefore, the interpretation of the Code should include research endeavors whether or not they have a strong clinical component. In fact, as highlighted in the Issues in Ethics statement, "Ethics in Professional Practice and Research" (2000; ASHA Leader Supplement 22), references to research and scholarship in the Code must be interpreted broadly.

Implicit in the Code is that an investigator is responsible for protection of the rights and welfare of all participants, and thus the Code should be interpreted to include the welfare of animals as well as humans. Informed consent is not defined but it should be interpreted in the spirit of the prevailing definition accepted by the scientific community. For example, this would include the right of a participant to withdraw or to choose not to participate without incurring any prejudice or penalty. Additionally, ethical responsibilities should be interpreted to include the ethical treatment of all collaborators, assistants, students, and employees associated with the research effort.

Because of the implied rather than specific nature of research in the Code and the emphasis on just the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology, and not speech-language-hearing scientists specifically, the Board of Ethics proposed revisions to the ASHA Code of Ethics for widespread peer review in March 2002. The primary changes include: reference to scientists and not just professionals, inclusion of research and scholarly activity in the Preamble, and specific inclusion of research under each of the four Principles, rather than just three in the present Code.

The Code is "aspirational and inspirational." It applies to all categories of individuals over whom it has jurisdiction. As such, specific codes pertaining to research are implied but not mentioned, such as: The Nuremberg Code (1947; JAMA, 276 , 30, Nov. 27, 1996, p.1691), which is "a 10-point statement delimiting permissible medical experimentation on human subjects," and The Belmont Report (1978; DHEW Publication No. [OS] 78-0013 and No. [OS] 78-0014), which states the "Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research."

Pending the need for further review and study in follow-up to the widespread peer review, the Board of Ethics plans to put forward revisions dealing with research and scholarly activities to the Legislative Council in November 2002.

James McCartney previously served as a member of the ASHA Board of Ethics.

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