Imbalanced coverage

September 28, 2007

I am conducting research into the way children are cared for in hospitals. My questionnaire contains innocuous questions such as, "Do you think parents should be involved in decision-making about their child's care?" Before I could begin, I had to complete 60-odd pages for the Central Office for Research Ethics Committees (now the National Research Ethics Service) application, with detailed information about how I recruited subjects, gained informed consent and so on. Had I offered inducements to subjects, these would have been examined closely.

Channel 4 last week broadcast a programme called You're Not Splitting Up My Family . This showed twin boys, their father, grandmother and social workers and care staff responsible them. On camera, the father verbally abused the boys, and he and the grandmother told the boys that they did not want them. Also shown were casework meetings where the boys were discussed and private issues were scrutinised.

If I have to go through stringent procedures to ask innocuous questions, why is the media allowed to present intrusive material? What inducements were offered to the family to participate?

It seems ethical requirements for researchers and the media are poles apart.

Linda Shields
Professor of nursing, Hull University

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