Letter: Ethical balances 1

January 18, 2002

I believe in academic freedom and a researcher's right to study controversial topics ("Don't rock the research boat," THES , January 11), but no researcher has the right to assume that people exist just to provide research subjects.

An ethics committee should balance public good with possible private harm. Central issues include risk to the individual, informed consent and confidentiality. A multidisciplinary ethics committee with lay members brings a variety of opinions and values to enlighten decision-making.

It is in all our interests to ensure that research is open to ethical scrutiny. If this takes an extra few weeks, so be it.

Jacqueline M. Atkinson
Department of health
University of Glasgow

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