A living ethical debate at KI

We who research or study at Karolinska Institutet are involved in matters relating to human health, which makes it particularly important that we think seriously about the choices we make and why we make them. Ultimately it is about making sure our actions cause no harm, physical or mental, to others and being able to decide, after careful ethical consideration, not to act.

We must all keep the ethical debate alive, and research teams should schedule times for discussion ethical issues.

As researchers and students at KI, we have an effect on those who agree to participate in our research. Often such people are the sick, elderly or very young, people who are less able to speak for themselves. This makes the ethical approach particularly important to follow.

Leading-edge research is especially susceptible to overstepping the mark. Extra alertness must be applied to costly, hyped research, since it can tempt those involved into losing their sense of judgement and forgetting the precautionary principle.

Sometimes there is no question about the ethical side of what we do; at other times, however, we need to look more deeply into the consequences of our actions. Ethical considerations are closely linked to our values and standards, which are in turn bound up with a particular society, time or workplace – such as Karolinska Institutet.

Ethical review of research involving humans

2004 saw the passing of the Act on the Ethical Review of Research Involving Humans, which not only concerns research on living participants but also on the deceased and on biological material, as well as research based on sensitive personal data.

The ethical review of medical research on humans requires a permit from one of the six ethical review boards.

Ethical review of research involving animals

Scientists wishing to conduct research on animals in Sweden must first apply for a permit with an animal ethical board, which then carries out an ethical review of the research project. The animal ethical boards include research representatives and laypeople, whose job it is to weigh the impact of the project on the animal against its benefits.

For further information, see the Swedish Board of Agriculture website. KI has its own animal welfare body.

Conflict of interest

By conflict of interest (COI) is meant a circumstance in which a member, a deputy member or rapporteur of a decision-making body can be assumed partial or biased in his or her opinions.

COI as per the Administrative Procedures Act

Section 11 of the Administrative Procedures Act defines disqualifying circumstances as:

  • If the matter concerns himself/herself or his/her spouse, parents, children, brothers or sisters or someone else who is closely related to him/her.
  • If he/she, or anyone else closely related to him/her, is the legal representative of someone that the matter concerns.
  • If he/she has taken part earlier in the handling of the matter in certain instances.
  • If he/she as regards the material issue has served someone as a representative or assistant.
  • If there is some other special circumstance that is likely to undermine confidence in his/her impartiality in the matter.

KI’s COI rules (swedish document)

Ethics for students

Karolinska Institutet has adopted guidelines for the ethical review of first-cycle projects, essays, etc. Separate rules are in place for animal experiments and for students used as participants in research projects.

More about ethics for students