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Intensive Care Med. 2009 Sep;35(9):1636-40. doi: 10.1007/s00134-009-1544-y. Epub 2009 Jun 19.

Research ethics committees in Europe: trials and tribulations.

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Ethics Committee of the Medical University of Vienna, 1090 Vienna, Austria.



Ethics committees have been an integral part of clinical research since 1975, when they were introduced through the amendment of the Declaration of Helsinki. Every proposal for clinical research on human subjects has to be submitted to an independent ethics committee for review and approval. The European Clinical Trials Directive 2001/20/EC was implemented in 2004 to harmonise the legislative framework for clinical research in Europe in order to make Europe more competitive in clinical research while at the same time improving the protection of research participants.


We have evaluated the situation of ethics committees in Europe five years after the implementation of the new law with special consideration of the number of Ethics Committees per European Member State and the number of members within the specific committees, including the selection of members, also in regard to gender aspects and training requirements, the remuneration or compensation of members in regard of their review obligations, and also issues of conflicts of interest.


Inadequate remuneration for professional services and gender imbalance are universal concerns across Europe. As the position of ethics committees changes continuously towards greater responsibility, further guidance is needed to uniformly adapt their structures to those needs.

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