Reforming research ethics committees

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7517.587 (Published 15 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:587
  1. Richard E Ashcroft (r.ashcroft@imperial.ac.uk), reader in biomedical ethics,
  2. Ainsley J Newson, postdoctoral research associate in clinical ethics,
  3. Piers M W Benn, lecturer in medical ethics and law
  1. Medical Ethics Unit, Department of Primary Care and Social Medicine, Imperial College London, Reynolds Building, St Dunstan's Road, London W6 8RP, UK

    Latest proposals are a missed opportunity for a radical review

    For the first 25 years of their existence in the United Kingdom research ethics committees were left more or less in peace by the Department of Health. Since the publication of the “red book” in 1991,1 however, they have undergone a continual process of radical change, from the introduction of multicentre research ethics committees in 1997, through research governance, to various legislative reforms of research practice including the clinical trials regulations of 2004.24 Ethical review has been extended to more and more kinds and locations of research. At the same time, ethics committees have been subject to continuous criticism from researchers and public and private sector sponsors of research. Criticism from patients and the public has been less audible.

    Some of the criticism of research ethics committees has focused on issues for which they can bear no responsibility, such as the interpretation of the Data Protection Act 1998 or the operation of trusts' research governance procedures. Ethics committees have been the lightning rod for the frustration researchers have felt about the bureaucratisation of research. Yet much of this frustration is reasonably directed at ethics committees. They …

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