Does Your Average Scientist Need an Ethicist on Call?
Source: Scientific American
Ethical dilemmas in research are nothing new; what is new is that scientists can go to formal ethics consultancies to get advice. Unlike the standard way that scientists receive ethical guidance, through institutional review boards (IRBs), these services offer non-binding counsel. And because they do not form part of the regulatory process, they can weigh in on a wider range of issues — from mundane matters of informed consent and study protocol to controversial topics such as the use of experimental Ebola treatments — and offer more creative solutions. But many scientists either do not know that they exist or fear using them because they could add red tape to an already heavy administrative burden. And this year, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) scrapped funding for a working group to support ethics-consultation services and to develop best practices for the profession. Although financial support could return in some form, ethicists are not waiting around for it. Dr. Benjamin Wilfond, director of the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics at Seattle Children's in Washington, has set up the Clinical Research Ethics Consultation Collaborative, a group of around 35 bioethicists who hope to keep improving the consultation service model, even without NIH support.
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