The Preliminary Assessment of Non-medical Research at the University of Turku

An ethical assessment has to be conducted with all non-medical research where participation can cause either direct or indirect injury to the human subject.

Preliminary assessment
Non-medical research can have an effect on the subjects’ well-being: taking part in a research can sometimes cause physical, mental, social or economic injury.
The researcher is primarily responsible for conducting the research according to good scientific practice and ensuring that the subjects’ dignity and rights are respected.
 
Before commencing the research, the researcher has to assess if the research might cause injury to the subjects and compare the risks of the research with its benefits.
 
In addition, the researcher has to make sure that the subjects have volunteered for the research, have been fully informed about the research and have given their consent in an appropriate manner (usually in writing) and based on sufficient information.
 
If the researcher is unable to demonstrate that the research will not cause any injury to the subjects, he or she has to contact the Ethics Committee and request for comment. This is usually carried out by filling in a request for comment form.
 
The committee assesses the research on the basis of the research plan and the attachments to the request for comment form. The committee recommends the commencement of the research if it is ethically acceptable.
 
In addition, the committee can make suggestions on how to reduce the risk of injury or how to use research methods that are less harmful to the research subjects. The committee does not authorise the research: the decision for commencing and conducting the research is made according to the established practice of the scientific community.
 
An unfavourable comment from the Ethics Committee does not prevent the commencement of the research, but it is a signal from the scientific community to the researcher.
 
The committee and the university management expect that researchers and the managers of research units take the comment of the Ethics Committee into account and validate their decision on the commencement of the research. The primary objective of the committee is to ensure the freedom of science within the boundaries of ethical research.
 
If the publisher or sponsor requires a statement from the Ethics Committee, the researcher can request a comment even if it is not necessary by the Finnish research ethics criteria to assess the research.
Who makes the request for comment?

The comment is requested by the person who is in charge of the research and selected by the research team. The person in charge of the research is usually the main researcher of the study (e.g. graduate student writing the dissertation) or the leader of the research project.
 
With basic degree theses (Bachelor’s and Master’s theses), the supervisor makes the request for comment if he or she degrees it necessary because of the nature of the research.

What kind of research requires a comment?

​The person in charge of the research has to request a comment from the Ethics Committee:

  • If the purpose of the research is to have a physical, mental or social effect on the subject, which can cause injury to the participant.
  • If the subject might experience physical, mental or social injury as a side-effect of the research.

An ethical assessment has to be made with all non-medical research that involves human beings as research subjects and can cause either direct or indirect injury to the participants.

The injury can be physical, mental, social or economic and is against the subject’s (which can also be a group, organisation or other juristic person) interest and rights.
The injury can be, for example, physical or mental damage, a break up in social relationships or a hindrance to the subject’s studies or employment possibilities. Additionally, poor data protection can also injure the subject in many ways.

The field of research

Ethical assessment concerns especially fields such as nursing science, physical education, psychology and social work. However, all research where the methods can cause injury to human subjects in the manner mentioned above are ethically assessed. This applies to all fields of research at the different faculties of the University of Turku.

Natural scientific research involving human subjects is usually medical in nature (the definition of medical research in the Medical Research Act) and is assessed by the ethics committee of the hospital district. However, some studies are not considered medical research and therefore not assessed by the ethics committee of the hospital district. This kind of research is conducted, for example, in the science of nutrition.

If the case is unclear, the researcher can ask for advice from the Turku Clinical Research Centre (turkucrc@tyks.fi) to determine if the research falls under the assessment of the ethics committee of the hospital district or not.

The level of research

Preliminary ethical assessment has to be carried out with doctoral dissertations and other scientific research that involve human beings as research subjects and meet the criteria mentioned above. Ethical assessment does not have to be carried out with basic degree theses (Bachelor’s and Master’s theses) unless the supervisor of the thesis degrees it necessary.

In some fields of science (e.g. nursing science) the practices can be different and are sufficient as such. In these cases, the thesis supervisor is responsible that the basic degree research is conducted according to the good scientific practice.

Register-based research

​The use of national registers for research purposes is regulated by the EU General Data Protection Regulation, the Personal Data Act, and the Act on the Openness of Government Activities.

Register researches that involve delicate information can be conducted if the researcher has been given permission to use the register by the authority controlling it (e.g. National Institute for Health and Welfare, Population Register Centre, Legal Register Centre, Stakes or Ministry of Social Affairs and Health).

>> Finnish Information Centre for Register Research
>> The Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman

 

Theses

Ethical assessment does not have to be carried out with basic degree theses (Bachelor’s and Master’s theses) unless the supervisor of the thesis degrees it necessary.

In some fields of science (e.g. nursing science) the practices can be different and are sufficient as such. In these cases, the thesis supervisor is responsible that the basic degree research is conducted according to the good scientific practice. The supervisor must also ensure that the student is familiar with good scientific practice and the procedure for handling misconduct.

Favourable comment
 
The benefits of the research have to be compared with the potential risks. The research subject can only be subjected to measures where the scientific and personal benefits outweigh the potential risks and injuries significantly. The purpose of the Ethics Committee is to ensure that the human subjects’ well-being is put before the advancement of science.

If the Ethics Committee gives an unfavourable comment, the research plan has to be changed according to the instructions on the comment. The revised research plan has to be presented to the committee by filling in a new request for comment form. The researcher has to enclose a covering letter where the changes to the research plan are explained and described.
Comment request form

You can send the form by email or by mail to the Secretary of the committee, Taru Wester.

Tel: +358 (0)2 333 5658
taru.wester@utu.fi

At the moment, the form and filling guidelines are available only in Finnish. (English information will be added later.)

Comment request form

Instructions for Comment request form