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Anthropologists have challenged bioethicists to incorporate more holistic approaches to applying ethics in ‘real world’ situations. Where bioethicists tend to use systematic philosophical approaches to moral dilemmas, anthropologists apply malleable approaches designed to be responsive to variable cultural contexts. For example, anthropologists emphasize the importance of community and the effects of social issues, political economy, and cultural tradition in decision-making. This difference in approach contributes to the contentious relationship between anthropologists and bioethicists. Despite nuanced perspectives, anthropologists have not enjoyed a durable role in shaping contemporary bioethics.

The lack of nuance becomes problematic when researchers attempt to reconcile ethical issues against a standard of morality rather than what Patricia Marshalls defines as a “culturally constituted and continually evolving” process. Reflecting on the IRB review of my work with African descendants in the United States and Nigeria, I will discuss the importance of conceptualizing bioethics as a dynamic issue, especially when working with communities abroad. Comparing these review processes is instructive about the organizational structures, influenced by culture and society, that impact decision-making in respective communities. In this presentation, I suggest that a focus on the way that IRB reviews are done can also offer insights and contextualization into community decision-making. Within a cross-cultural setting, considerations of the IRB review processes can lead to more informed conversations on bioethics and can aid researchers in applying more holistic approaches to study design.