Nancy Grynszpan and Jean-Marc Rohrbasser
on INED’s Ethics Committee
Nancy Grynszpan heads the Institute’s legal department and Jean-Marc Rohrbasser does research on demography subjects with philosophical implications. On a proposal from INED Director Chantal Cases, they have agreed co-head the Institute’s Ethics Committee (interview from January 2013).
What need is there for an ethics committee at INED?
Ethics indicates what should be done in a given situation. It does not imply dogma or call for any specific moral perspective; it is not Manichaean, nor does it refer to or derive from some absolute value. Rather ethics involves identifying values in connection with acting or reacting; that is, improving a given situation or creating a new one. The notion encompasses professional codes of ethics; i.e., the set of rules and duties governing a particular profession, the behaviour of those who practice it, and relations between them and the public at large. A few years ago, former INED director François Héran set up a taskforce to draw up a charter. The current director, Chantal Cases, has chosen to pursue this undertaking by establishing an ethics committee. In its expert evaluation of INED, the AERES [France’s Evaluation Agency for Research and Higher Education] specified that while the Institute’s code of ethics was "faultless," it would be useful to supplement it with the undertaking we are realizing today. The committee has been set up among other things to respond to researchers in need of a certified body to accredit their work-in the case of sensitive studies, for example, or studies that cannot be evaluated by any other body.
What are the Committee’s missions?
The purpose of the Ethics Committee is to identify a given situation in ethical terms, in some cases before a decision is made about it. The Committee formulates opinions on research projects or sections thereof that are submitted to it and that may raise ethics questions; it takes a position or doctrine on the ethical aspects of research or ethical issues linked to research; lastly, it reaches an opinion on collective and individual attitudes and makes recommendations for conduct in given situations. The Committee does not intervene in the substance of scientific controversies; it examines the eligibility of requests submitted to it in connection with INED board and department jurisdictions. Its opinions are collegial and non-binding. The Committee will draft an annual report on its activities, to be submitted to the Director, the Board of Administration and the Scientific Council.
How is the Ethics Committee structured and how does it operate?
We initially proposed a twelve-member committee made up of persons known for their professional or personal interest in ethics questions. After approval by the Director and agreement by the individuals in question, a ten-member structure was set up, balanced both in terms of institutional membership-5 INED and 5 outside members-and gender: 5 women and 5 men. The Institute Director does not sit on the committee. Members are appointed for three years and cannot sit for more than two consecutive terms. The need for continuity in Committee activities will be taken into account in membership renewal. The plan is to hold two sessions a year. Requests for opinions should be sent to the Committee in writing at least two months before the next session; they can come from the Director, the Institute’s regulatory bodies, or an INED department director, researcher, or staff representative.