The BMJ's ethics committee meets in person three times a year. Between meetings, editors can consult members by email. Collectively, the members have broad expertise including clinical medicine, research, journalism, bioethics, law, and medical editing. Responses are coordinated by the chairman and a decision is made by majority. The chairman will make decisions without consulting other members only in exceptional circumstances.
The committee is advisory. The editor can ignore its advice, but must justify her action to the chairman in writing. The advice and the editor's response would both be published. In the event of a dispute, the committee's chairman can appeal to the journal committee of the BMA.
Committee annual reports are posted on bmj.com. Any papers discussed by the committee and mentioned in these reports are anonymised first. Important decisions may also be reported in the print issue of The BMJ.
The committee has six main roles:
1. Clarifying, reviewing and developing editorial policies on issues such as:
Material arising from the doctor patient relationship (read our guidelines on consent to publication).
Competing interests for authors, reviewers, editors, and ethics committee members.
Prior disclosure of results to research participants.
Editors' duty of confidentiality to authors
2. Formulating new editorial policies.
3. Advising editors on ethics questions that arise during routine editorial work. This includes scrutinising papers referred by editors or peer reviewers worried about some aspect of the conception, design, conduct, presentation, authorship, or peer review of the work described in those papers.
4. Advising editors on their moral duties and responsibilities to patients, research participants, authors, reviewers, publishers, other editors and readers.
5. Helping editors to enhance the coverage of bioethics in The BMJ
6. Keeping editors informed of developments in research and publication ethics.
The committee does not provide approval for research proposals, and it is not the last-resort destination for complaints or editorial decision support. Complaints and editorial decisions can be brought to the committee for information; and COPE can be contacted for more direct advice.
Marion McMurdo (chair - since 2015)
Theodora Bloom, executive editor, The BMJ(since 2014)
John Coggon (since 2009)
Graham Cole (since 2016)
Fiona Godlee, editor in chief, The BMJ (since 2005)
Rubin Minhas (since 2013)
Andy Petros (since 2016)
Julian Sheather, senior ethics adviser, BMA (since 2009)
Adrian Sutton (since 2013)
Liz Wager, publications consultant, Sideview (since 2000)
Eleanor Naylor, BMJ (minute taker)
The committee is recruited through open advertisement in the lay press and the The BMJ, and we welcome applications from both within and outside the UK.
Ethics resources on the web