IRBs: Hindering the Progress Of Research?

In class last week, we had a group discussion on Institutional Review Boards, which is described by the FDA as “an appropriately constituted group that has been formally designated to review and monitor biomedical research involving human subjects”. Additionally, IRB’s approve research, protect human rights during research, and also disapprove certain research if need be.

We also talked about how IRBs fail to protect human rights on occasions more frequent than we would hope. There are several examples of this from the texts we’ve read throughout the course of this semester thus far. One example in specific that comes to mind is from a recent reading in Medical Apartheid. In chapter 11, when it talks about 126+ African American boys between the ages of 6 and 10 were tested with a drug fenfluramine to determine if violent behavior in these children could be biological. Later in the chapter, the book states that “children cannot give informed consent, because they cannot understand the medical procedures, or weigh the risks and benefits of participating in medical research”. With this in mind, researches will turn to parental control, but this can also lead to problems for the child. This is one clear problem from the text that came to mind in class last week when having this discussion on IRBs. Clearly, something needs to change to keep experiments such as this one from occurring.

I found an article called “Ten Ways to Improve IRBs” that suggests one good example that can spark a change in those IRBs that fail to protect the human rights of it’s participants. The article states that it is necessary to clarify the powers of IRBs. It says that many institutions do not do this, which can result in IRBs becoming informal, educational bodies that make suggestions and modify consent. I’m not saying that all IRBs need improving, but there are most certainly necessary improvements needed within some.This example from the article would be a good place to start, and it would prevent the modification of consent, such as the study that I mentioned from Medical Apartheid.

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