J Med Ethics 37:706 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100120
  • Editorial

The ethics committee as ghost author

  1. David M Shaw
  1. Correspondence to Dr David M Shaw, School of Medicine, University of Glasgow, 378 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3JZ, UK;{at}
  1. Contributors Sole author.

  • Received 11 July 2011
  • Accepted 12 July 2011
  • Published Online First 25 August 2011

Ethics committees (ECs) have a bad reputation for impeding, rather than facilitating research. Tales abound of delays and rejections of perfectly innocuous studies. Here, I argue that many committees actually improve the quality of the research proposal to such an extent that they deserve credit as authors in any resulting publications, or at least an acknowledgement of the contribution made.

One of the reasons that applicants are often angry at ECs is that they question the science of the proposal. Many researchers believe that this is not the role of the EC, and indeed the recently revised governance arrangements for research ethics committees (GAFREC) document states that:A REC need not reconsider the quality of the science, as this is the responsibility of the sponsor and will have been subject to review by one or more experts in the field (known as ‘peer review’). The REC will be satisfied with credible assurancesthat the research has an identified sponsor and that it takes account of appropriate scientific peer review.1

However, in many cases this advice simply cannot be followed. The job of an EC is to protect participants, and exposing patients to potential harm for the sake of …

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