Letter: The role of deception in ethical research

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Sir: The claim by your Health Services Correspondent that deception in research is not unethical 'where there is no other way to test a theory' (report, 12 March) is an incomplete account. Two other conditions must be met if research is to be ethically acceptable. First, the deception must cause no significant harm to those who are deceived. Second, the results of the research must not be trivial, but must be of sufficient importance to justify the use of deception.

The research in question, which found evidence of routine racial discrimination in the medical profession, appears to conform to these conditions. The reaction of the police in arresting the doctors who carried out the research is, therefore, heavy-handed, to say the least. And if disciplinary action is taken by the General Medical Council, this will be yet another example of the authorities ignoring abuses, while persecuting those who bring the abuses to public attention.

Dr Everington and Dr Esmail deserve thanks, not discipline.

Yours faithfully,


Centre for Applied Ethics

Philosophy Section

University of Wales College of Cardiff


14 March