One of the primary ethical justifications for conducting human research is to benefit society. Because human research seeks to understand something not yet known, participation in human research is not without risks. Given the fundamental importance of human research, society must ensure that research is conducted ethically, rigorously, and in a manner that safeguards the rights and welfare of research participants.
The Canadian Council on Animal Care’s program of animal research protection, a program that is over five decades old, has never been complemented by a program of human research protection in Canada. This, despite the fact, that healthcare is an accredited practice in Canada.
It was established in 1995 that a program of human research accreditation should only apply to an organization’s Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) – a concept that originated in the Canadian Deschamps Report. Shortly after publication of the Deschamps Report, the Canadian National Council on Ethics in Human Research (NCEHR) began an initiative towards accreditation. Issues related to funding, structure and oversight jurisdiction of the eventual accreditation body led to continued discussions over the next 10 years by various consortia and committees without a consensus ever being achieved.
Americans were quick to establish an accreditation program for human research. The first American human research organization achieved HRPP accreditation in 2003. Currently, there are hundreds of accredited HRPPs around the world, the majority of which are represented by American academic health centres such as Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University Faculty of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic, among others prestigious entities.
In 2017, HRA Canada, an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit accrediting body for Canadian human research, was formed by a group of advocates for the protection of human research participants’ rights and welfare. HRA Canada addresses the inconsistency in research participant protection oversight between animals and humans. It proposes to accredit HRPPs of Canadian organizations through a voluntary, peer-driven program based on education and excellence with a primary focus on human research participant protection.
Accreditation of human research provides assurance that human research is being conducted safely and ethically and that safeguards are in place to protect the well-being of the public when they choose to participate in research. Accreditation of human research provides the public with a high level of trust in human researchers and confidence in the data they produce upon which societal decisions are made.