What do ethics committees do for patients?

Medical ethics committees exist all over the world. The Declaration of Helsinki of 1973 stipulates that any medical study involving human subjects must be reviewed in advance by an ethics committee.


How do ethics committees protect patients?

Ethics committees protect the interests and rights of patients and subjects participating in a clinical trial.

In the ethics committee, the medical measures that are planned on the study participants are closely examined. The important question is whether the risks and burdens for the study participant are in good proportion to the expected benefits. In addition, the ethics committee checks whether the educational documents are easy to understand and present all measures well. Other criteria such as adequate insurance for the study participants are also examined.


Ethics committees support the interest of all sick people in high-quality medical progress.

Through their expertise, ethics committees support medical progress by helping to improve the quality of research projects. This applies, for example, to scientific validity, because only scientifically tenable study results have a benefit for patients. Poor study designs that produce results that are unusable are unethical and do not benefit patients.

What does the AKEK do for patients?

The AKEK and the ethics committees see themselves as partners of science as well as of patients. The Association strives intensively to help researchers in their research. For example, the working group harmonizes workflows and provides researchers with sample texts and handouts. This makes it easier for researchers to prepare for their studies.

At the same time, the AKEK is lobbying the researchers’ associations to make the information documents on study participation more comprehensible and compact. In addition, the Association is working on other problems, e.g. insurance coverage for study participation. Here, the Association tries to develop good solutions centrally, often in close cooperation with those responsible. This also applies to the numerous draft laws at the German and EU level where ethical issues in medical research are concerned. The AKEK prepares statements on these issues and always aims to protect study participants and improve the quality of medical research.

Ethics committees in medical research

Ethics committees act exclusively in the field of medical research. They only advise on clinical trials and other research projects in medicine. In Germany there are other committees dealing with ethical issues in medical care.

In Germany there are so called clinical ethics committees. There task is mainly to advise on a specific individual case. These are mostly ethical questions concerning seriously ill patients in a hospital. This ethics case consultation takes place by an interdisciplinary team within a hospital and relates exclusively to the area of medical care and not to the area of medical research.

The German Ethics Council is a nationwide body that discusses and issues statements on various ethical issues. These can be questions from medical care (e.g. organ transplantation) or from medical research (e.g. germ line interventions). But also completely different ethical topics, such as animal ethics, are discussed by the German Ethics Council.

The Central Commission for the Preservation of Ethical Principles in Medicine and its Border Areas (Central Ethics Commission, ZEKO) is a body affiliated with the German Medical Association. Similar to the German Ethics Council, it drafts statements on ethical issues in medical care and research. The ZEKO primarily addresses physicians.