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Information, consent, and informed consent

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TOI reports a typical case of “research” which grazes the boundaries of the accepted:

Electronic chip-sandwiched-lifebuoy soap provided by a survey agency on behalf of a multinational company at Beemapally created panic among the locals. Based on the complaints of the locals, Poonthura police took two agency officials into custody, only to release them later.

According to sources in the police, the survey was conducted by Socio Economic Unit Foundation (SEUF), an NGO based at Vellayambalam, for Unilever Research Medicine (UK) and Intertek CRS limited. It was a survey to find out the health and hygiene habits of the people living in coastal areas.

Volunteers of SEUF visited selected household in Beemapally and Valiyathura and distributed lifebuoy soaps to them. They promised Rs 400 in return for every used soap.

On Saturday, some women who were using the soap identified hidden micro chips kept inside them, complained to the police, following which police took the two volunteers into custody.

They were released by the police later. According to police officials, a detailed brochure on the methodology of the survey in Malayalam was distributed to each and every participant.

“We found that the brochure has the information about the chip and only those who agreed to the use of such soaps were enrolled for the survey. Moreover, the agency which did the survey is an authorized one,” said a police officer.

There is something wrong with the story. If “only those who agreed to the use of such soaps were enrolled for the survey” then why did “women who were using the soap” complain? Clearly there is a gap between the information given to them, and the consent received, and the notion of “informed consent”. This may be an innocuous case, but the slippery notion of informed consent becomes even more complicated when drug testing is performed in India.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 12, 2011 at 3:47 am

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