15. Research ethics, interpreters and biomedical research

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This paper is based on a project with the title Centering the Human Subject in Health Research: The Meaning and Experience of Research Participation. This paper looks at research interpreters and research workers who are influenced by both professional and ethical codes and broader research policies which govern the ethical conduct of clinical and community-based research. It is based on a review of the research ethics literature and a series of semi-structured in-depth interviews with fourteen key informants including researchers, interpreters and members of Research Ethics Boards (REBs). These interviews were completed with individuals with direct experience working across language barriers, sometimes as interpreters and sometimes as researchers; it is these interviews that provide the framework for this paper. It asks two main questions: (1) What are the differences and similarities between interpreters working in research and medical interpreters; and (2) How do the codes and policies governing research ethics compare with the professional codes of ethical conduct applied to interpreters. 
To answer the first question we revisit the three models of the medical interpreter: the interpreter as conduit, the interpreter as cultural broker, and the community embedded interpreter (Avery, 2001). We provide a brief description of each model and discuss the roles of interpreters, focusing on language and relationships. We also examine the implications of language barriers for research ethics, focusing on informed consent and the technical and ethical challenges of translating consent forms from one language to another. We then compare the professional codes of ethical conduct developed for medical interpreters by their own profession with the rules and regulations issued by government policy and research funding agencies and implemented by Research Ethics Boards. Lastly, we look at the question of community consent and at the roles played by some interpreters in speaking “for” a researcher and a research project.


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