Ethics Committee Chair
Ethics Committees are independent groups of people who attempt to ensure that clinical trials are ethically sound and do not pose unnecessary risks. “Any research in the United Kingdom that involves human beings, or human tissues, in any way, must have research ethics approval,” says Ethics Committee Chair Art Tucker, “I chair one of the oversight committees that assesses if a project is appropriate, and ethically acceptable.”
Members of Ethics Committees are volunteers who meet to read, study, debate and evaluate protocols for potential research studies. Art leads them through the approval process. These committees are made up of a variety of people, both from the medical and research community, but importantly the committee must include at least two lay (non-medical) members.
Before a clinical study begins, the Ethics Committee has to approve the protocol. Art says, “If we see…weakness in a protocol, we will suggest, in the nicest possible way, that they make alterations. Or if we’re uncomfortable, we actually refuse it. If they ask to do something that we find unacceptable, we will say no.”
When the Ethics Committee reviews each protocol, the Principal Investigator will come in and give a presentation. “We ask further questions and explanations of the proposal,” says Art, “Which are very useful and lead to a clearer decision.”
Art became involved with Ethics Committees after a study he was working on, early in his career, was rejected by one. “At the time I was really annoyed,” Art says. “It seemed to be unacceptable for an ethics committee to refuse us, and then I realised it wasn’t really their fault. It was our fault. We had not clearly explained what we were doing and why. And so they did their job-to protect the welfare, dignity, safety and privacy of the patients or volunteers.
“One of the best ways of understanding a system is to be part of the regulation. So I joined two ethics committees, and read everything about ethics I could possibly find.”