Published: 2020-04-09 09:54 | Updated: 2020-04-30 17:21

Expert team gives advice on research ethics

Nikas Juth, Associate Professor of Medical Ethics at the department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics (LIME). Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

Karolinska Institutet’s president Ole Petter Ottersen has set up a resource team for research ethics in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team comprises four experts from KI, one of whom is Niklas Juth, senior lecturer and docent of medical ethics and group convenor.

The resource team is to give KI researchers guidance in research ethics with respect to rules and laws (e.g. the Ethical Review Act) and issues of scientific ethics that are covered by ethical principles only.

What contribution will you make?

“We hope to be able to help researchers who have ethical questions concerning COVID-19 and, for instance, the testing or treatment of the disease. We’ll also assist the KI management so ithat they don’t have to answer all such questions themselves,” says Niklas Juth.

“But let me emphasise that we don’t have the power to approve research projects and we’re not replacing the Ethical Review Board. We give advice and point people in the right direction, but can’t tell them when they can and can’t do.”

Why is an expert team on ethics needed?

“In extraordinary circumstances such as these, it’s easier than normal to run too fast. You can get the impression that there’s a state of emergency and almost forget to stick to the rules and regulations that are still in place.

“So it’s good of you can get some guidance if you’re unsure what to do and some extra support so that you don’t start dong things you weren’t allowed to do before. Our work is very much about reminding all researchers at KI that what applied before the COVID-19 pandemic still applies. There is no state of emergency and the Ethical Review Act is still in effect.”

What pandemic-related issues will be particularly hard to handle?

“One is the balance between not obstructing important research while helping to ensure compliance with the rules and regulations.

“Another, which is a harder matter of ethical principle, is where to draw the line between research and treatment. It’s already become clear that scientists are being tempted to experiment in the name of therapy. But there are different rules and, to some degree, different ethical principles applying to research and treatment, and we mustn’t forget that.

“A common piece of advice that people will hear from us is: apply to the Ethical Review Board. They decide what qualifies as research and have even introduced priority treatment for research related to COVID-19.”

KI’s resource team for research ethics

  • KI’s research team for ethical issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic was formed in March 2020.
  • Its convenor is Niklas Juth, senior lecturer and docent of medical ethics at LIME, KI.
  • The team also includes Gert Helgesson, professor of medical ethics at LIME, Claes Frostell, professor and consultant at the Department of Clinical Sciences, Danderyd Hospital, and chair of KI’s Ethics Councils and Kristina Broliden, professor of infection diseases at the Department of Medicine (Solna) and consultant in clinical virology at Karolinska University Hospital.

Contact for KI researchers: Niklas Juth