Journal Article

Ethics and observational studies in medical research: various rules in a common framework

Frédérique Claudot, François Alla, Jeanne Fresson, Thierry Calvez, Henry Coudane and Catherine Bonaïti-Pellié

in International Journal of Epidemiology

Published on behalf of International Epidemiological Association

Volume 38, issue 4, pages 1104-1108
Published in print August 2009 | ISSN: 0300-5771
Published online March 2009 | e-ISSN: 1464-3685 | DOI:
Ethics and observational studies in medical research: various rules in a common framework

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Background Research ethics have become universal in their principles through international agreements. The standardization of regulations facilitates the internationalization of research concerning drugs. However, in so-called observational studies (i.e. from data collected retrospectively or prospectively, obtained without any additional therapy or monitoring procedure) the modalities used for applying the main principles vary from one country to another. This situation may entail problems for the conduct of multi-centric international studies, as well as for the publication of results if the authors and editors come from countries governed by different regulations. In particular, several French observational studies were rejected or retracted by US peer-reviewed journals, because their protocols have not been submitted to an Institutional Review Board/Independent Ethics Committee (IRB/IEC).

Methods National legislation case analysis.

Results In accordance with European regulation, French observational studies from data obtained without any additional therapy or monitoring procedure, do not need the approval of an IRB/IEC. Nevertheless, these studies are neither exempt from scientific opinion nor from ethical and legal authorization.

Conclusion We wish to demonstrate through the study of this example that different bodies of law can provide equivalent levels of protection that respect the same ethical principles. Our purpose in writing this article was to encourage public bodies, scientific journals and researchers to gain a better understanding of the various sets of specific national regulations and to speak a common language.

Keywords: Ethics; research; epidemiology

Journal Article.  2484 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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