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Open Access Research article

An eight-year follow-up national study of medical school and general hospital ethics committees in Japan

Akira Akabayashi1*, Brian T Slingsby1, Noriko Nagao1, Ichiro Kai2 and Hajime Sato3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedical Ethics, Graduate School of Medicine University of Tokyo University of Tokyo 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan

2 Department of Social Gerontology, Graduate School of Medicine University of Tokyo University of Tokyo 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan

3 Department of Public Health, Graduate School of Medicine University of Tokyo University of Tokyo 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan

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BMC Medical Ethics 2007, 8:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-8-8

Published: 29 June 2007

Abstract

Background

Ethics committees and their system of research protocol peer-review are currently used worldwide. To ensure an international standard for research ethics and safety, however, data is needed on the quality and function of each nation's ethics committees. The purpose of this study was to describe the characteristics and developments of ethics committees established at medical schools and general hospitals in Japan.

Methods

This study consisted of four national surveys sent twice over a period of eight years to two separate samples. The first target was the ethics committees of all 80 medical schools and the second target was all general hospitals with over 300 beds in Japan (n = 1457 in 1996 and n = 1491 in 2002). Instruments contained four sections: (1) committee structure, (2) frequency of annual meetings, (3) committee function, and (4) existence of a set of guidelines for the refusal of blood transfusion by Jehovah's Witnesses.

Results

Committee structure was overall interdisciplinary. Frequency of annual meetings increased significantly for both medical school and hospital ethics committees over the eight years. The primary activities for medical school and hospital ethics committees were research protocol reviews and policy making. Results also showed a significant increase in the use of ethical guidelines, particularly those related to the refusal of blood transfusion by Jehovah's Witnesses, among both medical school and hospital ethics committees.

Conclusion

Overall findings indicated a greater recognized degree of responsibilities and an increase in workload for Japanese ethics committees.