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Professional Ethics and Ethnopharmacology

Date Published: 2005

Full Reference:

Bannister, K., 2005. "Professional Ethics and Ethnopharmacology" in Ethnopharmacology, edited by E. Elisabetsky and N. Etkin in Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS). Oxford, UK:  Developed under the Auspices of UNESCO, Eolss Publishers. []


The intellectual and methodological plurality of ethnopharmacology poses a variety of theoretical and practical challenges. One of these is developing a sense of cohesion among researchers with such diverse sub-specialties as anthropology, natural products chemistry, and comparative religion. Sharing a common applied goal, and some fundamental principles to uphold in achieving that goal, are unifying aspects of any group. But defining a research ethic and level of professional responsibility that work for all members is challenging in today’s complex ethical and legal climate, especially for research involving biodiversity and the medicinal knowledge of indigenous or traditional peoples. This chapter critically examines the state of research ethics and professional responsibility in ethnopharmacology. Published sources and publicly available materials are drawn upon to construct an understanding of current thinking on the topic, identify issues and challenges, and offer considerations for the future of the discipline. Both internal standards (moral obligations widely agreed within the field), and externally imposed standards (by regulatory bodies, national governments, international environmental and human rights laws, and community protocols) are considered. The latter includes approvals, permissions and permits related to documentation of cultural knowledge and genetic resources, compensation, benefit-sharing, credit and rights issues, and community protocols. There is an expectation that today’s ethnopharmacologists have an understanding of the ethical, legal, ecological, sociocultural and sociopolitical aspects and implications of their work. There also is significant pressure from governments, interest groups and stakeholders to build equity into research relationships, especially given widespread accusations of “biopiracy” and “cultural appropriation”. With increased effort to develop a more unified collective perspective, ethnopharmacologists, as brokers of knowledge and agents of change, are well-positioned to be leaders in developing ethical and equitable research practices, if these are based on agreed values and terms that are co-defined with involvement and due respect for all stakeholders.

Page last updated: 03/10/2008