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Wrong Assumptions

Title: Wrong Assumptions

Author: Gerald P. Koocher and Patricia C. Keith-Spiegel, Children, Ethics, and the Law: Professional Issues and Cases, University of Nebraska Press, 1990.


Researchers employ a method of passive consent in requesting permission from parents to survey their children regarding sensitive family issues. The authors present this case as an example of poor research practices.

Headings: Informed Consent: Disclosure and Deception; Passive consent; Minors (children, adolescents); Survey and qualitative research (behavioral, social science)

Case Type: Illustrative

Wrong Assumptions

A research firm was contracted by a school system to identify and then assist children who were at risk for drug abuse. Students were to fill out lengthy questionnaires that delved into sensitive and private issues relating to the children’s feelings and home life. The school sent each parent a letter informing them in very general terms of the program, extolling its purpose, requesting their cooperation and support, and noting that if they did not wish to participate in the program they should contact the school. The letter ended with, “We will assume your cooperation unless otherwise notified by you.”