DLSU’s Code of Research Ethics was originally penned by Director for University Research Ethics Dr. Madelene Sta. Maria of the DLSU Research Ethics Office. “[The Code] was actually suggested by former Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. Wyona Patalinghug,” Sta. Maria states. “I was there in the University Research Coordination Office when she asked me if I could formulate a code for responsible research.”
The Code undergoes revisions every two years. Sta. Maria reveals that the Code is currently being reviewed in preparation for revision and could not be presented yet as of press time. “It has to go through a lot of endorsements and approvals. It is still early for me to tell you exactly what these changes are, because we are just going to be presenting the initial suggestions to the committee as to how the changes would be in a meeting with the research directors of the University,” she clarifies.
Ethics committee membership
Membership in the Research Ethics Review Committee is driven mainly by recommendation. According to Sta. Maria, an individual may be recommended based on a variety of considerations. “Members are actually chosen from among those I recommended,” Sta. Maria expresses. “I look into their exposure to research and into their knowledge of being members of other research review committees.” These members represent each of the University’s colleges.
After being recommended by Sta. Maria, candidates are further reviewed and then appointed by the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation. Membership in the review committee mainly lasts for at least three years. Other members in the committee include several officers, chairmen, and individuals coming from the Psychology Department.
When reviewing papers under the Research Ethics Review Committee, the first step is always checking the completeness of documents. “For example, in research ethics it is now very important that we obtain the informed consent of the research participants, and that means that the participant or respondent is given information about the research and he or she is giving active, documented consent to participate in the research,” she explains.
These documents would include the questionnaires, descriptions of data collections, and other permits from the University Safety Office regarding the safety of the participants in experiments that involve toxic chemicals, for instance.
After the checking of documents, the committee will then recommend if the research should undergo expedited or full review. Expedited reviews, unlike full reviews, do not require the full focus of the entire committee. “An expedited review is a review that need not the whole committee sitting down face to face to discuss the issues,” Sta. Maria says. “When the research does not entail more than minimal risk, meaning you’re making the person [or respondents] do things or exposing them to conditions that they are usually exposed to in their everyday life, like answering questionnaires and the like, we recommend expedited reviews.”
On the other hand, Sta. Maria cites that a paper will require full review if it can be potentially damaging for the respondent. “If you’re making a respondent do something that is not usual in his everyday life, like asking probing questions about his sex life, his dead father, or extracting blood, or placing him in strenuous activities, that poses more than minimal risk,” she says.
Unlike expedited reviews, full reviews mean that the committee members would meet face to face to discuss the status of the research. “[This] happens every end of term,” Sta. Maria explains. “If there are too many researches that entails more than minimal risk or that require full reviews, we can also have the committee meet midterm.”
The initial review of documents and expedited reviews usually take around one week each to finish. Full reviews, on the other hand, take varying amounts of time to complete. Some would last in just a week, while others may last in a month or more. After the reviews, the researchers would then receive a clearance to proceed with their work.
On unethical papers
After either receiving a clearance or rejection from the committee, a research proponent would have the option to appeal for re-review. “There is an appeal process outlined in our framework for ethical review. In our framework, there are guidelines for ethics review. If there is a decision to appeal, proponents could opt for it,” she affirms.
According to Sta. Maria, the research ethics committee does not outright mark unethical papers as “disapproved.” Instead, they would help the researchers minimize risks in research so that research methodologies would be revised and made “ethical.”
In one case, a doctoral student who wanted to extract blood from prisoners of the New Bilibid Prison was questioned on how she thinks the respondents would feel about the experiment. Sta. Maria maintains that there is no outright rejection for a paper despite it seemingly unethical at first glance. However, if the research proponent fails to identify the possible risks of their paper, the committee will then advise the proponent to revise their research methodology and try to remove the corresponding risks.
Sta. Maria believes, however, that students are not fully aware of DLSU’s research ethics policies and initiatives. Though this is the case, she claims that the students are starting to gain awareness from their professors. “They are beginning to [be aware], because from what I observe, more and more of their professors are now aware that ethics in research is very important and they are now starting to ask the research ethics office to conduct forums or talks with their students,” Sta. Maria concludes.