Decision-making about the ethics of qualitative research is problematic where the research design is emergent, and the balance between risks and benefits for research subjects are difficult to ascertain prior to study implementation. The discourses of health/medical research ethics and those of social research are shown to be divergent and, furthermore, where ethics committees tie themselves to the health/medical model of ethical decision-making, qualitative research approaches can be disadvantaged. Having demonstrated the dual discourses and their relevance to qualitative research ethics, a critical review of current approaches to maximising the success of qualitative research proposals being considered for approval by ethics committees is undertaken. This leads to a call for a system of monitoring qualitative research so that the 'benefit to risk' ratio is always on the side of benefit. This has implications for the ways in which ethics committees are organised and the ways in which they function.
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