Contents & Abstracts
John Raftery : Doing Better than the Media: Ethical issues in Trauma Research.
Keywords: trauma, media, research, ethics
Traumatic events are of considerable interest to the media. Not only are they interested in a story which will please their owners and editors, but the process itself is extraordinarily exciting. It takes them out of the mundane into the essence of survival and human drama. Researchers and therapists can also be attracted to events in a similar way. Even with the best intentions and motives it is hard to avoid the rush of being drawn into a victim's life when they are at their most vulnerable and needy. Our search for understanding through research also requires us to explore the experience of the event and its consequences. But what are the ethical issues of getting involved? Do we have any clear guidelines to follow in research and clinical practice? This paper addresses briefly the ethical issues in researching the effects of traumatic events.
Keywords: provocation, surrogate, flashback, killing
A rare medico-psycho-legal case is presented, which despite relying on the methodology of a single case history that is anathema to many who are neither clinicians nor lawyers, demonstrates a clear flashback to the memory of sexual abuse which occurred some 13 years before. The flashback was evoked by a stimulus situation that closely resembled the original, and it provoked a frenzied attack that left the surrogate abuser dead. Chronologically the earlier sexual abuse was validated from the indirect and hesitant manner by which the story emerged, and from a long-term cluster of signs and symptoms of associated adjustment and developmental problems. But for whatever reason the first Jury was not satisfied by the defence and found the accused guilty of murder, and the Judge imposed the sentence of life- imprisonment. Subsequently the Court of Appeal awarded a retrial on a point of law relating to the defence of provocation.
The original abuser was located just before the retrial some 14 months later, and he virtually admitted to the Police the truth of the allegations that had been made about him. Subsequently he was brought to the High Court by the defence under subpoena to give evidence, where the second Jury found the accused not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter, and the Judge sentenced him to five years imprisonment. Now the defence is to go further on appeal to seek a decision as to whether such an involuntary flashback would negate the capacity to form the legal intent that is an essential component of the crime.
Regardless of that particular outcome, the case is presented here for its unique feature which relates flashback to a killing, and involves the earlier sexual abuser being brought in person to give testimony. Although it does not invoke the concept of repression, because the victim said that the childhood memory was constantly with him, the case might introduce a cautionary note for those who are perplexed by the present adversarial nature of the repressed memory/fabricated memory debate and are trying to work out a tenable position in the matter.