Oral Presentation Australasian Association of Bioethics & Health Law and New Zealand Bioethics Conference

Honor, Shame and Exile: The Moral Geography of Whistleblowing in Research on Human Subjects (1193)

Carl Elliott 1
  1. University of Minnesota, Minnesota, MINNEAPOLIS, United States

When human research subjects are mistreated or abused, it is rare for anyone to blow the whistle. Most bystanders remain silent in the face of wrongdoing. The rare whistleblowers who do speak out present a moral puzzle that needs explanation. First, whistleblowers often feel implicated by wrongdoing in which they had no personal involvement. Second, while whistleblowers claim to act for moral reasons, those reasons are rarely convincing to their medical colleagues, who typically condemn them as disloyal. Third, whistleblowers often understand that they are embarking on a professional suicide mission, yet they act anyway. Fourth, even when whistleblowers succeed, they are deeply traumatized by their experiences and often feel as if they have failed. I will argue that understanding the act of whistleblowing means understanding the language of shame and honor that sociologists have declared obsolete, but whose force many of us still feel.