Ethical Considerations Associated with Exploration and Analog Environment Research

Environments........................................................................................................6

Employees Versus Volunteer Research Subjects...................................................7

Sufficiency of Participant-focused Ethical Guidelines..........................................9

Sufficiency of Beneficence - or Risk/Benefit Analysis - Focused Guidance.....11

Conclusion...............................................................................................................13

References................................................................................................................14

Introduction

The journey of human discovery and exploration can be traced back as far as records of humans exist. While exploration is undertaken by all mobile animal species, humans engage in this activity with significantly higher frequency (Hughes, 1997; Kidd & Hayden, 2015). Evolutionary anthropologists have linked this apparently innate desire to understand and explore our environment to a gene variant possessed by approximately 20% of the population (Weaver, 2015), although the desire for exploration cannot manifest without the means and ability to do so.

Through the beginning of the 20th century, exploration involved discovering, observing, and mapping new lands and surface areas of oceans. During the

European Age of Discovery or Age of Exploration (15th—17th centuries) the “last frontier on our planet” - the oceans - was sailed and charted at an exponentially higher rate than ever before (Granath, 2015). Despite this increase and the technological advances since the mid-20th century that have provided the means for even more robust exploration of deep sea environments, the oceans, which comprise 70% of the earth’s surface, remain mostly unobserved and unexplored (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association [NOAA], 2018).

Conversely, the vast majority of the earth’s land had been explored by the turn of the 20th century, and explorers began to turn skyward for the next challenge. Individuals participating in these feats accepted the hazards and risks, with Charles Lindbergh stating “I believe the risks I take are justified by the sheer love of the life I lead” (Granath, 2015). Within a relatively minimal timeframe, humans advanced from the initial aviation pioneers (e.g., Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris in 1927) to testing the boundaries of flight at the edges of the earth’s atmosphere (e.g., the German Rocket Team in the late 1940s). The dawn of official human space exploration followed shortly after, in 1961, w'hen Yuri Gagarin circled the earth for 108 minutes.

Evaluating the ethics of an activity humans have been seeking out and engaging in for thousands of years is at once a deceivingly simple and incredibly complex task. As our means and ability to explore more extreme environments have increased through technological advances, so have our obligations for critically examining the proposed undertakings before proceeding with endeavors that inherently risk human life. The simplicity of this evaluation lies in the clear ethical guidelines that have been established and promulgated for research involving human subjects, resulting from lessons learned through unethical endeavors (e.g., Nazi experiments, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). The complexity lies in determining how to analyze the various potential risks, costs, and benefits to determine if the proposed endeavor sufficiently outweighs risks and costs with benefits. At the outset, we will note that this endeavor was recently undertaken in part by a cross- disciplinary set of experts in the specific context of long duration and exploration spaceflights, resulting in ethics, principles, responsibilities, and a decision framework for these missions from a health perspective (Health Standards; Institute of Medicine [IOM], 2014); efforts have been made to avoid excessive repetition here, although there is an overlap. Below is a primer and refresh on the ethical guidelines and requirements for research involving human subjects followed by a discussion on the application of those guidelines and requirements to humans in exploration and analog research environments.

Evolution of Ethical Guidelines for Research Using Human Subjects

After the end of the Holocaust, the world had to face the reality that medical doctors in Germany had performed experiments on human subjects that were often cruel in nature. Unfortunately, at that time, there was little consensus in the scientific community regarding what constituted legitimate research as opposed to illegitimate, inhumane experimentation. During the latter part of the 20th century, scientists collaborated to formally codify standards that could guide ethical research, and these standards have since been applied to medicine and the social sciences; however, now as humanity’s reach is extending further into space, new questions about the ethics of extreme environment research are arising, and researchers inevitably have to consider (1) whether this research can be evaluated using current ethical guidelines and (2) whether new ethical standards are required given the unique nature of emerging research streams (e.g., a manned trip to Mars).

 
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