Ethics in Practice Activity

Is disproportionate gift giving acceptable when it is visible to the whole network?

Except from Browne and Peek’s (2013) Beyond the IRB: An Ethical Toolkit for Long-Term Disaster Research:

“I had worked hard all these years of my research to express my gratitude to Katie and her sisters in equal measure—gift cards, birthday gifts, holiday gifts, gifts upon visiting, surprise gifts. But when the hard reality of final post-disaster compensations became apparent, I wanted to do something more for Katie. After all, she had not only gotten a pitifully small allowance from Road Home, she had also suffered a terrible stroke in December 2007, leaving her without the ability to speak or walk. Until her stroke, Katie had been the most generous person imaginable to me—offering up her homemade food, her ready conversation, and unlimited access to her life and home. I wanted to give Katie something to show my recognition of the injustice of her housing outcome and to contribute in some small way to her comfort at a time of real mental, physical, and financial strain. I decided to find a way to get Katie a big porch, one her double-wide trailer home had not come with. I would supply the cost of the materials and locate volunteer carpenters to build it. Providing funds out of my pocket was never the dilemma for me. In fact, it was not until after the porch was finished, some nine months later, that I realized the ethical landmine I had stepped on. I never mentioned to anyone that I had organized and financed the project, but Katie’s husband and her children did. And many of her cousins and grandchildren and others in the family thanked me. But I was unprepared for a question from Katie’s sister one afternoon when she asked, ‘You do this for Katie?’ ‘Well, I helped,’ I responded. ‘Yeah, well, I could use one of them in my backyard,’ she said looking at me with hard eyes.”

Woman holding a wrapped gift