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The ‘ethics committee’ job is administrative: a response to commentaries
  1. Andrew John Moore
  1. Correspondence to Dr Andrew John Moore, Department of Philosophy, University of Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand; andrew.moore{at}otago.ac.nz

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What job should authorities give to review boards? We are grateful to Soren Holm, Rosamond Rhodes, Julian Savulescu and G Owen Schaefer for their thoughtful commentaries on our answer.1–4 Here we add to the discussion.

Let us summarise the claims for which we argued.5 Relevant authorities can task boards with review for consistency with duly established code (‘code-consistency review’ or ‘CCR’), thereby making code-consistent activities apt for approval and code-inconsistent activities apt for rejection. They can instead task boards with review for ethical acceptability (‘ethics-consistency review’ or ‘ECR’), making ethically acceptable activities apt for approval and ethically unacceptable activities apt for rejection. For every proposal a board might consider, these two different jobs establish different review bases, and their approvals and rejections also sometimes conflict. Some international and national statements require ECR, others instead require CCR, and others again seem either to require both or just to run the two together. Those responsible for these statements should make them clearer and better aligned here. For reasons of practicality, publicity and separation of powers, authorities do better to task boards with CCR and not ECR. These arguments also count against establishing any code with content that in effect collapses CCR into ECR. If our arguments withstand robust scrutiny, authorities should also remove ‘ethics’ and cognate terms from the names of these boards and their review activities and emphasise code expertise not ethics expertise in the required skill sets of boards.

Our article noted that ‘ethical considerations informed the genesis of these boards and express their aspirations’. Rhodes similarly notes: ‘the authors and endorsers of research ethics codes, declarations and regulations … (are) articulating the ethical standards for conducting human subject research’ and ‘This framework embeds the ethical parameters of human subject research into the moral missions of institutions’. Schaefer too …

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