Using the Emanuel et al. framework to assess ethical issues raised by a biomedical research ethics committee in South Africa

J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2014 Dec;9(5):36-45. doi: 10.1177/1556264614553172. Epub 2014 Oct 13.


The Emanuel, Wendler, and Grady framework was designed as a universal tool for use in many settings including developing countries. However, it is not known whether the work of African health research ethics committees (RECs) is compatible with this framework. The absence of any normative or empirical weighting of the eight principles within this framework suggests that different health RECs may raise some ethical issues more frequently than others when reviewing protocols. We used the Emanuel et al. framework to assess, code, and rank the most frequent ethical issues considered by a biomedical REC during review of research protocols for the years 2008 to 2012. We extracted data from the recorded minutes of a South African biomedical REC for the years 2008 to 2012, designed the data collection sheet according to the Emanuel et al. framework, and removed all identifiers during data processing and analysis. From the 98 protocols that we assessed, the most frequent issues that emerged were the informed consent, scientific validity, fair participant selection, and ongoing respect for participants. This study represents the first known attempt to analyze REC responses/minutes using the Emanuel et al. framework, and suggests that this framework may be useful in describing and categorizing the core activities of an REC.

Keywords: Emanuel framework; RECs; South Africa; assessment of ethics review; ethical review framework; health research ethics; research ethics committee review outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Developing Countries
  • Ethical Review*
  • Ethics Committees, Research*
  • Ethics*
  • Ethics, Research
  • Humans
  • South Africa