ethics committees

Ethics committees are central to all research. As the pressures increase on individuals to promote research then it is inevitable that short cuts may be taken.
Also a few Ethics committees can be ponderous, pompous and very long winded.
In an article in nature 9 Ledford H 2007 Trial and error Nature 2007 448, pp531-3
there is an interesting article on the problems confronting ethics committees in a litigious society.
I was for many years the chairman of an ethics committee and the problems were real.
I remember once someone complaining to a friend and colleague that his project had been refused, the response was surely no one would ever do that to another human being. End of complaint.
The history of ethics committees is of brave knowledgeable people complaining that the famous and influential in the profession could do what they wanted to patients.
As with many well-intentioned efforts in the field of health care the legitimate concerns about protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects participating medical research have now assumed a life of their own.
Until the mid-part of the 20th century there were few concerns regarding medical ethics. This changed in 1946 when 20 high-ranking Nazi physicians were placed on trial in Nuremberg, Germany and charged with war crimes against humanity for performing experimental procedures on human beings without their consent.
In 1966, Henry Beecher, a physician from Harvard University and, in 1967, Maurice Pappworth, physician from London published evidence that there were significant abuses in the conduct of research involving human subjects at many of the leading medical research institutions in America and Britain. From this point many people gathered behind the need to have ethics committees.
Maurice Pappworth(1910-1994 ) suffered grievously at the hands of the Medical Establishment for his publications and out spoken approach. He is not mentioned in the paper. He wrote a very damning account of what was happening in Human Guinea Pigs, published in 1967. Many of the great in medicine mentioned in that book never forgave him.
At the “grass roots” level came to the creation of Human Subject Research Review Committees at medical facilities throughout the Britain and the United States. These Committees were originally organized for the expressed purpose of protecting the rights and welfare of patient participants in medical research projects and to make research and patient and volunteers safe.

Martin Eastwood
Back to top