Intended for healthcare professionals


Are research ethics committees behaving unethically?

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 01 March 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:676

Committees are now being expected to do everything

  1. E Pierce, Administrator, Brighton Local Research Ethics Committeea
  1. a East Sussex, Brighton, and Hove Health Authority, Lewes BN7 2PB
  2. b Clays Farm, East Worldham, Alton GU34 3AD
  3. cSouthmead Health Services, Southmead Hospital, Bristol BS10 5NB

    Editor–I read Julian Savulescu and colleagues' article on local research ethics committees with a sinking heart.1 The view presented seems to be part of a growing movement towards placing increased responsibility on local research ethics committees, which are now expected to assess the need for each new project (against the background of previous related research), interview researchers, inspect sites, monitor progress, and follow up the reporting of all completed trials.

    The desire to improve the quality of medical research is laudable, but it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect this to be done entirely through the mechanism of review by local research ethics committees, at least as presently set up and funded. Members of local research ethics committees carry out their functions on an amateur basis (though some have professional backgrounds). They would not pretend to be omniscient, only conscientious, sincere, and disinterested. Their review forms only one safeguard in research.

    To undertake the additional tasks suggested in the article, local research ethics committees would need a great deal of extra time and …

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