Human Ethics

Human Ethics

Research ethics at Macquarie University is supported by the Research Ethics and Integrity Team in the Research Office.The University expects that all research with human participants adheres to the standards set out in theNational Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007)and other ethics guidelines and relevant legislation.

If your research involves biosafety or biohazards issues, including use of recombinant DNA, potential pathogens, radioactive isotopes or other hazardous substances, the project may need clearance from the Institutional Biosafety Committee. Please see gene technology and biosafety for more information.

About human research ethics

The University has established two fully constituted Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs) to review the ethical aspects of procedures where humans participate in research and in teaching projects: HREC (Human Sciences and Humanities) and HREC (Medical Sciences). These Committees are directly responsible to the Vice-Chancellor. There are also five Faculty Ethics Subcommittees to review low risk ethics applications for research involving human participants.

Why is ethics approval necessary?

Ethics approval is necessary for the following reasons:

  • to protect the welfare, rights, dignity and safety of research participants
  • to protect researchers' rights to conduct legitimate investigation
  • to ensure that the risks to participants involved in research project are assessed and understood
  • to ensure the release of grant funds
  • to ensure that research is appropriately insured.

The National Statement requires that research protocols consider not only the physical and mental well-being of participants, but also matters of confidentiality, privacy, consent and researcher integrity.

According to the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) (the National Statement) human research (including pilot studies) may involve the following:

  • taking part in surveys, interviews or focus groups
  • undergoing psychological, physiological or medical testing or treatment
  • being observed by researchers
  • researchers having access to their personal documents or other materials
  • the collection and use of their body organs, tissues or fluids (e.g. skin, blood, urine, saliva, hair, bones, tumour and other biopsy specimens) or their inhaled breath
  • access to their information (in individually identifiable, re-identifiable or non-identifiable form) as part of an existing published or unpublished source or database.

If your research includes any of the above, you must apply for ethics approval before you commence your research.

If you are not sure whether or not your project requires ethics approval, contact the Ethics Secretariat on +61 2 9850 6848 or by email:

Committee constitution

The Macquarie University HREC (Human Sciences and Humanities) and HREC (Medical Sciences) are both fully-constituted HRECs operating in accordance with the National Statement and comprising the following members:

  • a Chair
  • two lay members, one man and one woman, who have no affiliation with Macquarie University and who do not currently engage in medical, scientific, legal or academic work
  • one person with knowledge of, and current experience in, the professional care, counselling or treatment of people
  • one person who performs a pastoral care role in the community
  • a lawyer not engaged to advise the institution
  • at least two people with current research experience that is relevant to the research proposals submitted for review.

The Committees have equal numbers of men and women.

At least one third of the members are external to Macquarie University.

Terms of reference and standard operating procedures 

Please see the HREC Terms of Reference and Standard Operating Procedures for further information.

Scope of responsibility

The HRECs are responsible for reviewing, approving and monitoring research protocols where humans are involved in research and where this research:

  • is undertaken by researchers and their students, visiting academics and other personnel formally recognised by the University
  • involves human participants recruited from Macquarie University, being staff or students, or recruited externally
  • is carried out using University equipment, facilities or premises owned by the University or otherwise under control of the University.

If you are not sure whether or not your project requires ethics approval, contact the Ethics Secretariat on +61 2 9850 4459 or by email:

HREC review of low risk research

The University has also established five faculty ethics sub-committees to review low risk ethics applications for research involving human participants. 

The faculty ethics sub-committees have been established in accordance with the National Statement (5.1.7). The faculty ethics sub-committees review ethics applications deemed no more than low risk, which is defined by the National Statement as "research in which the foreseeable risk is one of discomfort [only]".

Please see the Faculty Terms of Reference for further information.

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