Michael Cheng-Tek Tai
Chung Shan Medical University, Taiwan

Chair Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities, Institute of Medicine, Chung Shan Medical University, Taiwan

Dr. Michael Cheng-Tek Tai is a chair professor of bioethics and medical humanities of the Institute of Medicine, Chungshan Medical Univeristy, Taichung, Taiwan. Dr. Tai earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Ethics from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada and had taught at Concordia University, Montreal, King College, Bristol, Tennessee and University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada before his return to Taiwan in 1997. Since then he had served the dean of the College of Medical Humanities and Social Sciences and the chairman of the department of Social Medicine of the Chungshan Medical University. He was the president of International Society for Clinical Bioethics from 2006-2010 and served on the editorial board of the Journal of Medical Ethics (England), European Journal of Bioethics (Croatia), Medicine and Philosophy (China), Medical Education, Tzuchi Journal of Medicine (Taiwan) and the chief editor of Formosan Journal of Medical Humanities. He is a member of Medical Research Ethics Committee of Academia Sinica, IRB member of the National Chengchi University, Taipei, IRB member of Chungshan Medical University, Taichung and convener of the subcommittee on Education and International Relation of the Ethics Governance Committee of Taiwan National Biobank. He also sits on Medical Affairs Committee, Medical Ethics Committee and Biobank Research Committee of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfares, Taiwan. He has published more than ten books including The Way of Asian Bioethics (in English), A Medical Ethics of Life and Death, The Foundation and Practice of Research Ethics, The Medical Humanities in the New Era… etc and numerous scholarly papers around the world.

Good Practice to Protect Against Bias and Conflict of Interest

Research is indispensable to discover new knowledge and deepen understanding.  Modern technology that enables us to do many things that were impossible in the past and the rapid biomedical progress that enables physicians to treat diseases that were regarded as hopeless in the last few decades, are the results of works of researchers. Research gives us many benefits such as advancing knowledge, leading to new discoveries, promoting professional advancement and enhancing personal sense of achievement and satisfaction…etc.  These benefits are commonly recognized as justifiable serving as the catalyst motivating scientists to delve into hard work of study.  But conflict of interest arises when a researcher has any personal relationships with or financial gain from the fund providers thus resulted in taking certain preceded stand in research.  When these situations appear, the research becomes scientifically biased and ethically defected that undermines the integrity and objectivity of research.

The National Bioethics Advisory Commission of USA, in examining the system of protection of the integrity of research, noted that research “necessarily creates a conflict of interest for investigations” because if any compromise or presupposed position caving in during the research, much is at stake for violating the principle of integrity.  The NBAC’s finding reminds us that researchers must try his/her best to protect against any bias or conflict of interest.

Bias is one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, or not having an open mind. Bias, a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group in comparison with others, can come in many forms.

A conflict of interest arises when a person or association has intersecting interests that may exist in a situation that a researcher or the researcher’s institution or employer has financial or personal relationships or affiliations that could influence researcher’s judgment and work.

This presentation will suggest several steps to take in order to protect a possible conflict of interest or bias from happening.  The first is to enhance researcher’s awareness of research ethics. This requires the researcher to enroll in a continuing education in the area of research ethics to enhance the awareness.  The second is a requirement for the researcher to disclose all financial and personal relationships associated with the research funders. In other word, openness is a necessary value in research and must observe honestly.  The third is to submit a lucid and detailed description of research protocol and follow it through accordingly. Chance is there that researcher after IRB grants it approval will not follow own proposal closely thus resulted in ethical discrepancy. The fourth, IRB besides playing its role as a reviewing and guarding body must also heed itself not to fall into the hole of conflict of interest.  The last is to recommend a checklist for all researchers.

These steps by no mean can solve the problem of conflict of interest or bias from happening in research but at least a beginning for us to ponder and try.  N. Steneck listed 8 fundamental values for researcher to observe: rationality, objectivity, integrity, honesty, responsibility, collegiality, fairness and openness and he condensed these values into four principles for research, they are honest (conveying information truthfully and honoring commitments), accuracy (reporting findings precisely and taking care to avoid errors), efficiency (using resources wisely and avoiding waste), and objectivity (letting the facts speak for themselves and avoiding improper bias). These values are to be upheld.  Two cases will be discussed at the end to see how protection of bias and conflict of interest can be achieved.