The ethical risks of curtailing emotion in social science research: The case of organ transfer

Shaw, Rhonda
March 2011
Health Sociology Review;Mar2011, Vol. 20 Issue 1, p58
Academic Journal
Organ donation and transplantation has the potential to save lives. Organ transfer also raises a number of ethical and emotional issues, especially in discussions around anonymity protocol and in relation to the invisible but tangible presence of shared corporeality in the course of organ transfer. In this article, which is based on in-depth interviews with organ transplant recipients and members of donor families, these issues are addressed from the perspective of a sociologist interviewing people about their experiences in this domain. In particular, the article examines what it means to do sociological research on sensitive topics with vulnerable groups in light of institutional ethics guidelines that require protecting the emotional safety of researchers and research participants during the research process. In so doing, I identify several problems with formal ethics approval procedures for researchers engaging with vulnerable groups such as organ donor family members and transplant recipients, and some of the risks associated with taking an empathic approach to social research interviewing.


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