Being a Non-Scientific, Community member of an Institutional Review Board can be one of the most intimidating assignments out there. Imagine at least once a month having to read mountains of documents inundated with scientific jargon, while having a non-clinical background and being charged with ensuring the “ethical” execution of a project. That’s quite a burden to bear.
I once knew a Community Member who was a Rabbi; we’ll call him Rabbi Abraham in this article. He was absolutely one of my favorite people. He was cordial and wise, what most would expect of a religious leader but boy could he be feisty in defense of what he deemed fair and ethical treatment of human subjects. Rabbi Abraham exuded what it meant to be a Community Member. He was a gentleman from the local city whose first mission by virtue of his spiritual calling was serving others and as an IRB Member he was uniquely positioned to put people first.
For the most part, Community Members are unimpeded with things like the prestige that certain veins of research can bring to an Institution or a Department nor a University colleague. Instead these folks, at least the great ones, are motivated by a more personal and visceral innateness to protect others. That was Rabbi Abraham.
There would be times, during meeting where no one could tell him that this invasive procedure made sense and clearly warranted more consideration and oversight. It was amazing to see him rally the trained Ethicist on the committee to his cause. His passion was remarkable and contagious. Rabbi Abraham was a model not only to other Community Members but also the Board as a whole. His vocal nature encouraged new and younger board members to voice their opinion and be unafraid to share their dissent with the body.
The job of a Community Member can never be underestimated. Firstly, and probably most important, the role of a non-affiliated member is required by Federal law, precisely because these are the people who are intended to consider the all-embracing interests of the community. When you do bring in a new community representative it’s important that they feel comfortable and understand that their role is one of the most important positions on the board and it’s okay to consider things from their unique perspective in the world. These people are champions of the community and their input holds parity with any doctor, professor or lawyer at a convened meeting.
It was a great feeling to know that I had Rabbi Abraham fighting every month for the interests of a community that my own family was a part of. We should be thankful for all of the uncompensated community members around the country who give of their time, their careers and family to serve the greater good.