Ethics Committee or Community? Examining the Identity of Czech Ethics Committees in the Period of Transition
Journal of medical ethics 2010 Sep; 36(9): 548-52
Reflecting on a three year long exploratory research of ethics committees in the Czech Republic authors discuss the current role and identity of research ethics committees. The research of Czech ethics committees focused on both self-presentation and self-understanding of ECs members, and how other stakeholders (representatives of the pharmaceutical industry) view them. The exploratory research was based on formal and informal communication with the members of the ethics committees. Members of the research team took part at six regular voluntary meetings of the ethics committees' members, organised by the Forum of Czech Ethics Committees, and at three summer schools of medical ethics. There were realised twenty-five semi-structured interviews as well as six focus group sessions and a participant observation of several regular meetings of three ethics committees. On the grounds of experience from the interviews a simple questionnaire survey was realised among the members of the ethics committees. The ethics committees comprise a community of members working voluntarily, without claims to remuneration or prestige; the unifying goal is protection of subjects of research. The principal working methods are dialogue and agreement. The members of the ethics committees thus, among other things, create an informal community, which can be to a certain extent seen as a Kantian ethical community in a weak sense. The phenomenon of ethics committees can also be described by terms of an epistemic community and a community of practice. These concepts, which are borrowed from other authors and areas, are used as a way how to think of ECs role and identity a bit differently and are meant as a contribution to the current international debate on the topic.