“Many claim that putting people in high pressure, tense situations, for the purpose of observing their behavior at every moment, borders on performing medical experiments on human beings. If we would examine several reality shows in the context of human experiments, it’s doubtful if it were permitted under the Helsinki Declaration,” states a report submitted by an ethics committee appointed by the Israeli Medical Association, according to a report in The Marker.
The Helsinki Declaration determines ethical principles regarding human experimentation which were developed for the medical community by the World Medical Association (WMA). It is regarded universally as the cornerstone document of human research ethics.
“This would hold true just based on the fact that the participants’ consent is not given from an informed position,” states the report.
The harsh verdict was issued in the aftermath of a scandal in which a psychiatrist working for “The Big Brother” reality television show prescribed psychiatric pills to contenders, ostensibly to enable them to stay on.
The committee added that “in contrast with experiments conducted on human beings, where the primary purpose is the development of drugs and healing methods benefiting humanity, reality shows merely gratify the peeping impulse of the viewers, and their main purpose entertainment for the masses and profits of the producers.”
The committee published the results of its recently completed study on Tuesday. The Health Ministry has decided not to initiate procedures against Dr. Ilan Rabinowitz, the psychiatrist at the center of the Big Brother scandal, after he was found guilty of dispensing psychiatric medication to the contestants during the show’s second season, and also not to initiate procedures against the show’s production company, or the franchise, Keshet, which have both been accused of being aware of Rabinowitz’s alleged manipulation.
The Medical Association’s Report is by far harsher than the findings published by the Health Ministry investigation. It opens with an introduction that completely opposes reality shows on moral grounds and indicates potential emotional harm to contestants as well as damage to the public, resulting from the shows.
Professor Abraham Reches, chairman of the Medical Association Ethics Committee, explained that in spite of the convincing ethical flaws found by the committee regarding reality shows, the committee chose, in effect, to acknowledge that the shows are not going away any time soon, and thus to cooperate with them by establishing guidelines.
“I’m a realistic person, and it’s clear that the reality shows will continue to be aired, even though I have a negative view regarding their very message. Therefore, given that these programs will not stop being televised, we are taking at least one positive step by outlining the proper way to safeguard the participants’ health. I am convinced that this will be a gradual remedial process, and it is my hope that the network and production companies will adopt our recommendations,” Dr. Reches told The Marker.
According to Dr. Reches, “Our concern is for the physical and emotional health of the contestants in the reality shows and we are determining where the red lines are, between our absolute commitment to the patient/contestant, and our obligation to the interests of the producer. A doctor remains a doctor even when he gets his salary from a television production.”