Research ethics

The FWO takes great care to ensure that all research funded with its resources is carried out in accordance with ethical standards. Some of these are imposed by law, others are generally accepted as being part of (international) scientific practice.

Researchers funded by the FWO are required to identify any ethical aspects in their research using the questionnaire that is included in the application forms.  This may also involve a legal requirement to submit the research proposal to an ethical committee, as specified in the questionnaire. Other aspects will at least constitute points of interest for the applicants and the evaluators of the application. (See general regulations.) Applicants may also contact the research coordination department of their main host institution for any questions on this issue.

Please note that where no ethical advice is required for the research itself, such advice may be necessary when you want to use your data for publications.  That is why, in the questionnaire, the requirement to request advice sometimes has a slightly broader scope than is strictly legally required for the research itself, so as to avoid problems later.

Legal basis

Scientific experiments involving humans, human material, animals and often also scientific research having a broader impact on people and their environment are governed by legislation at national and European level. The European and Belgian legislation, which is binding for researchers in Belgium, is summarised below for the categories of human subjects, embryos and human material, personal data, and animal subjects. This overview is not exhaustive. For European legislation, it is limited to regulations, because these automatically apply to all member states of the European Union and therefore do not need to be transposed in national legislation. European directives, by contrast, first have to be transposed in national legislation and as such are already incorporated in Belgian law, so they are not included in the overview.

Also guidelines on scientific integrity may prove relevant for more specific ethical issues, as indicated here.

Practical

The application form for an FWO fellowship or project includes the section 'Ethics'. This section contains a number of questions relating to ethical aspects of the proposed research, which are based on the ethical questionnaire of the European Research Framework Programme.

  • For questions marked with *, when answered in the affirmative, ethical advice must be obtained from the relevant ethical committee as required by law or by the main host institutions.
  • For all other questions the applicant and the evaluation panel are invited to reflect on the issue and take appropriate precautions as necessary.

Also the panel responsible for evaluation of the application may indicate that ethical advice is required or formulate comments and advice for specific aspects.

The fellow or supervisor of a research project must, no later than at the start of the fellowship or project, submit the ethical advice to the main host institution, which will forward it to the FWO. If the advice relates to a work package that is planned only for a later stage of the fellowship or project, it may be submitted just before the start of that part of the research. The FWO will in any case monitor the delivery of the advice at the agreed time in close collaboration with the main host institutions.

For ethical advice related to FWO research the FWO's standard form should be used. The ethical committee may come to one of three conclusions: 'approved', 'approved but subject to conditions' or 'rejected'. In the last case, the research can only be started if the researcher makes the necessary changes to the proposal so that it can as yet be approved by the ethical committee.

If the relevant ethical committee uses its own model form, the FWO form should be attached to it. The FWO form may also have been incorporated into that of the main host institution.

For information about the ethical committees of the main host institution and the local procedure for requesting ethical advice, you may contact the research department of the relevant institution.