The EU has gone to great lengths to reach out to women interested in science
careers, however rules and regulations come up short when dealing with ethics
committees reviewing research applications, a new study claims. The study,
published in the Journal for Medical Ethics, reviewed current practices
across Europe and found that not enough is being done to address the gender
imbalance among research ethics committees (RECs). In addition to being under-represented
in research sanctioning bodies, sex and gender-specific risk-benefit analysis
of project findings is not sufficiently considered.
The study, headed by Dr Clara J Moerman of the University of Amsterdam, studied two RECs in five different EU Member States: Austria, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands and Sweden. In examining the track record of individual committees, the study investigated two critical questions relating to gender issues. One was whether or not existing procedures expressly called for women or those with gender expertise be represented, and the second considered how sex and gender issues would be dealt with in evaluating prospective results.
|Only Sweden was found to have legislation containing rules for women on ethics committees.
Issues related to RECs have the potential of greatly influencing European research, as RECs decide whether or not a particular proposal is up to ethical standards and of sufficient quality to merit funding.
The study team reviewed documents provided by RECs and interviewed their members, and discovered that many had informal procedures to ensure that women were represented, yet few had any official rules. Sweden was the only country to have clear national guidelines in place regarding sexes. All committees took gender into account when recruiting new members, but again no formal measures were recorded.
As for subjects of research projects, all RECs made efforts to ensure that pregnant women or women of childbearing age were protected, though further gender issues were not considered. Possible benefits or side-effects of a given study were not assessed with sex-specific variables taken into consideration.
Authors of the study acknowledge that policy is specific when dealing with women
participating in health research funded by the EU, but when it came to ethics
committees, it “paid only limited attention” to the issue.
They also emphasise that gender issues are left out of the recent EU clinical
trials directive intended to harmonise practice across the Community. They recommend
that more be done to understand the importance of gender differences in health,
and EU-wide policy and recommendations are needed to guarantee gender equality