Research ethics

If medicine is to continue to make advances, then research involving human beings is necessary, too. This requires ethical and legal framework conditions. In Switzerland, the Human Research Act is definitive. In its handbook, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS) offers a comprehensive overview for day-to-day practice.

Two preconditions must be met for medicine to continue to make advances through research seeking to benefit both patients and society. Firstly, valid research findings can only be obtained through flawless scientific methodology, and, secondly, the framework conditions for research involving human beings must ensure reliable protection for the participants.


Since 2014, medical research has been regulated comprehensively in Switzerland through the Human Research Act. The SAMS handbook «Research with human subjects» provides researchers and members of research ethics committees with a comprehensible overview of the complex legal regulations. At the same time, it conveys a basic ethical stance, which is necessary to ensure that potential research participants, political circles and the public at large are able to perceive researchers as trustworthy.


SAMS handbook «Research with human subjects» (2015)



Treatment in individual cases

New treatments normally undergo scientific evaluation in research projects. However, an innovative treatment can also be administered on the basis of a therapy decision involving an individual patient, independently of carrying out a research project. This is called “experimental treatment in individual cases”.


SAMS guidelines «Distinguishing between standard treatment and experimental treatment in individual cases» (2014, updated 2015)



Scientific integrity

Scientific integrity is the voluntary commitment by researchers to comply with the basic rules of good scientific practice. Honesty, self-criticism and fairness are essential for morally correct behaviour. Various developments increase the temptation to use unfair means to attract greater attention and achieve rapid success. The Swiss Academies wish to impose limits on tendencies of this nature and demonstrate their commitment through the Kommission Wissenschaftliche Integrität (Scientific Integrity Committee) and the issuing of recommendations.


SAMS brochure «Integrity in scientific research – Principles and procedures» (2008)


SAMS brochure «Authorship in scientific publications – Analysis and recommendations» (2013)





lic. iur. Michelle Salathé
Head Department Ethics