Using video in childbirth research: Ethical approval challenges

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Nursing Ethics, 2017, 24 (2), pp. 177 - 189
Issue Date:
2017-03-01
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© The Author(s) 2015. Background: Conducting video-research in birth settings raises challenges for ethics review boards to view birthing women and research-midwives as capable, autonomous decision-makers. Aim: This study aimed to gain an understanding of how the ethical approval process was experienced and to chronicle the perceived risks and benefits. Research design: The Birth Unit Design project was a 2012 Australian ethnographic study that used video recording to investigate the physical design features in the hospital birthing space that might influence both verbal and non-verbal communication and the experiences of childbearing women, midwives and supporters. Participants and research context: Six women, 11 midwives and 11 childbirth supporters were filmed during the women’s labours in hospital birth units and interviewed 6 weeks later. Ethical considerations: The study was approved by an Australian Health Research Ethics Committee after a protracted process of negotiation. Findings: The ethics committee was influenced by a traditional view of research as based on scientific experiments resulting in a poor understanding of video-ethnographic research, a paradigmatic view of the politics and practicalities of modern childbirth processes, a desire to protect institutions from litigation, and what we perceived as a paternalistic approach towards protecting participants, one that was at odds with our aim to facilitate situations in which women could make flexible, autonomous decisions about how they might engage with the research process. Discussion: The perceived need for protection was overly burdensome and against the wishes of the participants themselves; ultimately, this limited the capacity of the study to improve care for women and babies. Conclusion: Recommendations are offered for those involved in ethical approval processes for qualitative research in childbirth settings. The complexity of issues within childbirth settings, as in most modern healthcare settings, should be analysed using a variety of research approaches, beyond efficacy-style randomised controlled trials, to expand and improve practice-based results.
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