May 21, 2011
Members of the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology (JSPN) would like to express our sincere condolences to the people who have suffered from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
A natural disaster can happen at any time. On the one hand, disaster survivors are in a particularly vulnerable position while making a strenuous effort towards revival. On the other hand, research can provide important data on how to prevent and deal with disaster. Directly and indirectly, this type of research can alleviate some of the suffering of disaster survivors. Therefore, in order to facilitate the need of increasing knowledge on how natural disaster affects human life and considering the particularly delicate situation, JSPN organized the "disaster countermeasures office". Besides collecting information required for mental medical support for disaster victims/survivors, this office is in charge of carrying out the logistic activities of the "mental medical support team", which is dispatched by organizations related to medical ethics. The mental medical support team is also in charge of checking the state of mind and body of disaster survivors. Furthermore, the team integrates the policy for maintaining the health of mind and body and developing suitable medical treatment for each disaster survivors' actual condition when their health is already impaired.
In Japan, investigation and research involving human subjects is regulated by the ethics guidelines (i.e. the “Ethical Guidelines about Epidemiology Research" and the "Ethical Guidelines for Clinical Study") and how these guidelines are implemented in practice is overseen by relevant offices in the Japanese government. Because natural disasters are sudden, research can sometimes start without proper scientific justification and continue without strict adherence to normative ethics. Subsequently, this can lead to subtle forms of coercion to participate, particularly when research is combined with clinical care. Ethical requirements arise from understanding of the rights and duties of human beings. Hence, researchers are required not only to abide by normative ethics, and respect for persons, but also to consider how these principles are expressed in specific situations (i.e. natural disaster). JSPN, therefore, urge researchers to carefully consider and recognize the sensitivity of the situation and to take the necessary steps to respect the social and cultural background as well as the mental condition of disaster survivors. Moreover, careful deliberation about the ethical and scientific nature of the research by the ethical review committee is essential, and researchers should adhere to appropriate codes of ethical practice and follow the ethical procedures. Research about people is crucial in the aftermath of disasters, but it should be scientifically sound, while specific cultural and regional aspects should be carefully considered.
Disasters, by their very nature, make individuals and social groups vulnerable. Exploiting or abusing disaster survivors for research without strong scientific justification should never be allowed. JSPN is strongly opposed to investigation conducted in the disaster stricken areas (i.e. the Tohoku region) that is lacking scientific rigor and it is not culturally or regionally appropriate. Therefore, the investigation and researches involving human subjects must be carried out according to the rules stipulated in the “Ethical Guidelines about Epidemiology Research" and the "Ethical Guidelines for Clinical Study".
The Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology