The value of bioethical research: A qualitative literature analysis of researchers’ statements

PLoS One
[Accessed 3 Aug 2019]

The value of bioethical research: A qualitative literature analysis of researchers’ statements
Marcel Mertz, Tobias Fischer, Sabine Salloch
Research Article | published 29 Jul 2019 PLOS ONE
Value and waste in preclinical and clinical research projects are intensively debated in biomedicine at present. Such different aspects as the need for setting objectives and priorities, improving study design, quality of reporting, and problematic incentives of the academic reward system are addressed. While this debate is also fueled by ethical considerations and thus informed by bioethical research, up to now, the field of bioethics lacks a similar extensive debate. Nonetheless, bioethical research should not go unquestioned regarding its scientific or social value. What exactly constitutes the value of bioethical research, however, remains widely unclear so far.
This explorative study investigated possible value dimensions for bioethical research by conducting a qualitative literature analysis of researchers’ statements about the value of their studies. 40 bioethics articles published 2015 in four relevant journals (The American Journal of Bioethics, Bioethics, BMC Medical Ethics and Journal of Medical Ethics) were analyzed. The value dimensions of “advancing knowledge” (e.g. research results that are relevant for science itself and for further research) and “application” (e.g. increasing applicability of research results in practice) were used as main deductive categories for the analysis. Further subcategories were inductively generated.
The analysis resulted in 62 subcategories representing a wide range of value dimensions for bioethical research. Of these, 45 were subcategories of “advancing knowledge” and 17 of “application”. In 21 articles, no value dimensions related to “application” was found; the remaining 19 articles mentioned “advancing knowledge” as well as “application”. The value dimensions related to “advancing knowledge” were, in general, more fine-grained.
Even though limitations arise regarding the sample, the study revealed a plethora of value dimensions that can inform further debates about what makes bioethical research valuable for science and society. Besides theoretical reflections on the value of bioethics more meta-research in bioethics is needed.