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J Lab Clin Med. 2003 May;141(5):292-6.

Research ethics committees in developing countries and informed consent: with special reference to Turkey.

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  • 1Department of Medical Ethics, Ankara University Faculty of Medicine, Turkey.


Research ethics committees (RECs) are the institutional equivalent of institutional review boards (IRBs) with respect to their role in the ethical analysis of research projects. In Turkey, as in most developing countries, these committees were initiated as a result of pressure from the Western scientific community. Since their formation, RECs have faced problems because of an underdeveloped scientific culture and the absence of established ethical standards. On the one hand, the standards of the RECs and IRBs in the developed world seemed too hard to achieve; on the other, some of the international regulatory rules, such as respect for autonomy, are not culturally sensitive. In addition to problems facing RECs, researchers have had difficulties in fulfilling RECs' requisites. Respect for autonomy is a good example for Turkey. The social construct of Turkish society is not based on the Western concept of autonomy; it is based on "collective autonomy," which is completely different from the Western definition. Cultural interpretation of concepts is the perception of concepts effected by their cultural connections with other concepts. For example, "motherhood" as a concept has many cultural connections, so when it is used we have to consider those culturally determined contexts. In some countries, the familiar concept and term are kept separated from the one that is imported. In others, the imported concept alters the original concepts content. Although its course varies in different countries, it always puts extraordinary pressure on RECs and researchers in their relationship between themselves and other parties with conflicting interests. In this article, some of the main concerns of RECs in developing countries are discussed, with special reference to Turkey. The universality of regulatory norms is questioned and the importance of culturally sensitive and effective safeguards emphasized.

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