Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nursing Professors Want IRB Oversight of Interviews with Bereaved

Two professors of nursing warn that "Psychological harm is indeed a risk when interviewing individuals who may be in a fragile state and researchers should not have unfettered access to them." But they offer no evidence that IRBs offer appropriate protection without restricting legitimate research that may directly benefit the people being interviewed.

[Florczak, Kristine L., and Nancy M. Lockie. “IRB Reformation Is Unfettered Access the Answer?” Nursing Science Quarterly 28, no. 1 (January 2015): 13–17. doi:10.1177/0894318414558621.]

Florczak and Lockie rely on the story of "Katie," as in this passage:

Katie knew from conducting numerous interviews that they were not innocuous. Her participants frequently broke down and expressed myriad emotions from anger to fear but most often a profound overwhelming sadness. Dyregrov and colleagues (2011) added credence to Katie’s assumption that interviews are other than insipid conversations. They said that bereavement interviews can unearth painful memories resulting in the participants becoming emotionally exhausted and distressed.

It is not clear from the essay if "Katie" is a pseudonym, a composite, or an entirely fictional creation.

Florczak and Lockie do cite Kari Madeleine Dyregrov, Gudrun Dieserud, Heidi Marie Hjelmeland, Melanie Straiton, Mette Lyberg Rasmussen, Birthe Loa Knizek, and Antoon Adrian Leenaars. “Meaning-Making Through Psychological Autopsy Interviews: The Value of Participating in Qualitative Research for Those Bereaved by Suicide,” Death Studies 35, no. 8 (September 2011): 685–710. doi:10.1080/07481187.2011.553310. And that study did indeed report that "Some bereaved cried or were upset when talking about their loss."

But Florczak and Lockie do not report Dyregrov et al.'s equally important findings that "very few people felt distressed when discussing the suicide and almost all of the participants felt no different or better than usual at the 4-week follow-up" and that "The majority of informants (62%) responded with unambiguous, highly positive statements that were numerous, varied, and spontaneous." This led Dyregrov et al. to warn that "Too often ethical boards delay or stop research projects with vulnerable populations, influenced by presumed rather than empirically documented vulnerability."

Dyregrov et al. attribute the positive results to "the value of talking about the circumstances with a professional who has insight into the reasons and processes around suicides." This suggests that a credentialling system, rather than review of individual protocols, might better serve research participants.

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