What is the South African Medical Research Council's ethics
MRC recognises injustices in our past and subscribes to the
values enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South
Africa Act, No. 108 of 1996: human dignity, the achievement
of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
policy of the MRC is clear. All research sponsored by the Council
must be of the highest ethics standard. No research will be
sponsored without ethics clearance from a Research Ethics Committee
recognised by the Council and operating in accordance with MRC
For whom are these Guidelines intended?
MRC Guidelines are concerned with research on human participants
and animals. The Guidelines consider all forms of research on
individual persons, whether they be volunteers or patients,
and include the study of treatment which might benefit the individual
patient (therapeutic research) and the acquisition of knowledge
that may be of no immediate benefit to the healthy volunteer
(non-therapeutic research). These Guidelines apply also to non-clinical
research on humans. Guidelines on ethics in the use of animals
in research are dealt with in Book 3 of the current MRC Guidelines
in the chapters of this Book 2 of the series Guidelines on Ethics
for Medical Research is extensively based on three previous
editions and on international documents1-9 (see also Appendices
V - VII, in Book 1) but is adapted for South African conditions
The MRC promotes the four principles of biomedical ethics:
(respect for the person - a notion of human dignity)
(benefit to the research participant)
(absence of harm to the research participant)
(notably distributive justice - equal distribution of risks
and benefits between communities)
considerable debate about whether one or more of these principles
require or deserve preference when ethical problems are considered.
For example, the trend in most Western countries seems to emphasise
autonomy over beneficence. This counters the alleged danger
of paternalism in the practice of medicine, and emphasises the
importance of the consent and freedom of patients in making
decisions about their own health and well-being. Such views
are questioned in the context of many developing countries,
where solidarity within communities is valued together with
respect for individual choices, and where there is increasing
concern about conflict between personal autonomy and public
safety in the face of, for example, infectious diseases such
as tuberculosis and particularly today the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Concern for distributive justice in developing countries also
enjoys a higher priority than in some wealthy Western nations.
is convinced of the importance of adherence to the four classical
principles of biomedical ethics, and of the importance of human
rights and individual dignity, but it takes no prejudicial position
in debates on the ranking of these principles. The MRC also
does not commit to any one approach to moral reasoning or to
any one strategy for the resolution of complex ethical dilemmas.
It seems clear that, in most disputes in biomedical ethics,
some balance between the four principles should be pursued.
In maintaining commitment to the classical principles, the complexities
of each case must be understood and taken into account in any
effort to make justified moral judgements. Of more importance
than the consistent adherence to a specific approach or strategy
for the resolution of moral dilemmas is the willingness and
ability to justify whatever position is taken through sound
of ethics standards requires a critical evaluation of the relative
merits of each of the four principles of ethics to produce a
harmony appropriate for a particular research project.