The ethics of suicide research

Crisis. 2009;30(1):13-9. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910.30.1.13.


Background: Good quality, ethically sound research is needed in order to better understand, appropriately respond to, and reduce the incidence of suicide. There is, however, a lack of clarity around the nature of ethical problems associated with suicide research and how to resolve them. This is a formidable challenge for ethics committee members in approving and monitoring research.

Aims: To describe the views that members of health research ethics committee hold regarding ethical problems and ethical practice in research involving people who are, or who have, been suicidal.

Methods: Ethics committee members were invited to complete an online survey addressing the risks, benefits, and ethical problems associated with suicide research. Findings were aggregated into themes using an inductive form of content analysis.

Results: Concerns of ethics committees centered on accessing the population, potential harm to participants or the researcher, researcher competency, maintaining confidentiality, providing support to participants, and responding sensitively to the needs of family.

Conclusions: Ethical research involving suicidal people requires both procedures to protect participants, and consideration of ethics as an ongoing negotiated process. The findings of this research provide a snapshot of views held by a number of ethics committee members.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Ethics Committees, Research*
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Humans
  • Patient Selection / ethics*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Suicide / prevention & control*
  • Vulnerable Populations*