Briefing Paper on Informed Consent - Participate & Advocate
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Briefing Paper on Informed Consent

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Ethics Committee Briefing Paper on Informed Consent

Draft for CommentsBriefing Paper on Informed Consent

AAA Committee on Ethics
Prepared by Lauren Clark and Ann Kingsolver

Preface:  In November 2000 the Committee on Ethics was asked to address the question, What constitutes valid and informed consent in anthropological research?  Members on the Committee on Ethics have prepared this briefing paper in response.

Official Sources of Guidelines: The Committee on Ethics recognizes that scientific investigations are regulated through a process of internal review for the protection of human subjects (or, collaborators).  In particular, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services operates the Office for Human Research Protection, charged with monitoring compliance of research supported by HHS to standards outlined for the protection of human subjects ( Universities and affiliated institutions also establish and monitor protection of human subjects in research through a program of internal review.  Finally, investigators are held to codes of ethical conduct adopted by professional and scientific organizations. One of these is the American Anthropological Association Code of  Ethics. International documents which should be consulted include the 1995 Annex to the UN Declaration on Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples, Principle 9 ( and the 1994 International Covenant on the Rights of Indigenous Nations ( The Committee on Ethics recommends that anthropologists and anthropology students conducting research with human subjects become familiar with all applicable guidelines and codes of ethical conduct and adhere to them in obtaining informed consent for these collaborators' participation in research.

Background Information on Informed Consent: The AAA Code of Ethics states the following about informed consent: "Anthropological researchers should obtain in advance the informed consent of persons being studied, providing information, owning or controlling access to material being studied, or otherwise identified as having interests which might be impacted by the research. It is understood that the degree and breadth of informed consent required will depend on the nature of the project and may be affected by requirements of other codes, laws, and ethics of the country or community in which the research is pursued. Further, it is understood that the informed consent process is dynamic and continuous; the process should be initiated in the project design and continue through implementation by way of dialogue and negotiation with those studied. Researchers are responsible for identifying and complying with the various informed consent codes, laws and regulations affecting their projects. Informed consent, for the purposes of this code, does not necessarily imply or require a particular written or signed form. It is the quality of the consent, not the format, that is relevant."

What Constitutes Valid and Informed Consent in Anthropological Research?  The following characteristics are indicative of valid and informed consent.  Researchers seeking valid and informed consent will

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