In this paper some of the general issues surrounding recently published guidelines for the practice of research ethics committees are outlined, concentrating in particular on the difficulties raised by research with psychiatric patients. Research is distinguished from ordinary clinical practice by the intention to advance knowledge. So defined, research with psychiatric patients should be governed by the same four principles as research with any other group--knowledge, necessity, benefit and consent. In applying these principles, however, particularly the principle of consent, many acute difficulties are raised by psychiatric patients. A number of proposals for addressing these difficulties are discussed. It is suggested that, notwithstanding the value of published guidelines, and the help that may be available from research ethics committees, the primary responsibility for maintaining high standards of practice in research rests with research workers themselves.
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