Who should be involved in ethical review?
Most ethics committees have a range of tasks, so a balance of different levels of seniority, roles, expertise and perspectives is needed to ensure fairness and accountability.
Most institutional ethics and animal care and use committees comprise a core membership of at least one or more:
animal technologists or care staff
- animal technologists or care staff
- community or lay members and
- (in some countries) representatives from animal welfare organisations
This is the minimum necessary. A wider membership is recommended, and if you are involved in an ethics committee you might want to check that this has been achieved.
The UK Home Office recognises the need for wider involvement by requiring the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) to include a senior animal technologist (the Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer). 'Active engagement' from the Named Information Officer and the Named Training and Competence Officer is expected as well. Establishments are encouraged to involve 'people who do not have any responsibilities under [the legislation] as well as one or more persons who are independent of the establishment'.
The RSPCA strongly supports lay, and independent, membership of AWERBs and other ethics committees.
But membership is not just about expertise or roles within the establishment - other factors such as balancing different levels of seniority, and perspectives, are also important. Getting the 'right' people involved who have the 'right' personal qualities is essential in developing an effective and progressive committee. Members should be prepared to listen to, and respect, different views. They need to be able to deal with difficult issues fairly, and be prepared to constructively challenge the status quo when there are questionable harms, benefits or wider ethical issues to consider. Advice on key competencies and personal qualities useful for all committee types is set out in the RSPCA/LASA Guiding principles for AWERBs.
Good chairing skills are key. Chairs need to recognise the importance of the ethics committee's role and to promote this within the institution, to all staff including senior management. They should ensure all of the committee's tasks are addressed, and be willing and able to create an environment that encourages open and forthright discussion from all participants.
It is good practice to have training and induction programmes for all committee members including the Chair). The RSPCA provides training meetings for lay members of AWERBs and a Lay Member's Resource Book, both of which other categories of members also find useful. The RSPCA also leads on organising occasional RSPCA/LASA/LAVA/IAT AWERB-UK meetings to provide training for all types of committee member.