Research ethics

Research ethics is a world-wide set of principles governing the way any research involving interaction between the researcher and other humans or human tissue or data relating to humans, is designed, managed and conducted. In preparing a research project, the dignity, rights, safety and well-being of human participants must at all times be considered, respected and safeguarded.

Ensuring research is conducted ethically

Research ethics committees are responsible for reviewing ethics applications in order to ensure that adequate consideration has been given to the ethical aspects of a research project, thus reducing the potential for harm and upset to the participants.

An ethics committee will assess whether the research proposedcan be considered ethical, ie whether:

  • the research is justified, ie whether it is likely to add to the existing knowledge base;
  • it is of sufficient standard – including whether the researchers are qualified to carry out the roles proposed in the research proposal
  • the risk it poses to participants is outweighed by the potential benefits of the research;
  • the research appears to comply with all statutory and other guidance;
  • data management and handling appears to comply with the relevant legislation (data protection laws) and guidance (eg Research Governance Framework, NHS Code of Practice on Confidentiality or the NHS Care Records Guarantee);
  • financial arrangements appear sound – it would be unethical to start research that may not be completed because insufficient funds were available.

University of Manchester requirements

All projects conducted by University staff or students that involve human participants in a way that might harm, disturb or upset them (however slight the possibility) or where they can be deemed to be in a vulnerable or disadvantageous situation, must receive approval from a recognised research ethics committee.   

More than just a box-ticking exercise

The purpose of obtaining ethical review is to show that researchers have thought about the ethical implications of their research and will conduct their research in an ethical way.

Once theyhave ethical approval they cannot deviate from the procedures approved by the research ethics committee that was approved. If they need to deviate from the protocol, the proposed amendment should be notified to all stakeholders in the project.