The work nearly comes to a halt
The establishment of the commission under the Council of Medical Research ensured compliance with the requirement for prior approval of projects. This may in itself have been a reason why the matter lost momentum.
In addition, the largest hospitals had established their own local committees. The foremost pioneer in the establishment of Norwegian ethics committees, Erik Enger, chaired the local committee at Ullevål Hospital. In the context of planning the establishment of further local committees in the hospital, he stated that «in practice, this means that most likely there will be no regional committees at all» (7). His opinion was shared by Hans Erik Rugstad, the later chairman of a Regional Committee on Research Ethics: «Work on the regional ethics committees appears to have come to a halt» (8).
In a summary of the efforts to establish regional ethics committees issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs to the Ministry of Church and Education in January 1981 it transpires, however, that the lack of clarity surrounding the financial aspects, rather than the need and the scope, was the key problem (9). There was also disagreement regarding the organisation, the need for a secretariat and the remuneration to committee members. However, the Ministry deemed the proposal from the Research Council of Norway, that the faculties of medicine in the respective regions should take on the function of the secretariats, as «a natural solution» (9). And that’s also how it turned out, eventually.
One of the main reasons for the slow grind of the matter was the report on research and ethical responsibility submitted by a commission under the Main Committee of the Norwegian Research Council in the autumn of 1981, under the leadership of Knut Erik Tranøy (1918 – 2012), Professor of Philosophy. The report complains that Norway «is the Nordic country which is lagging furthest behind with respect to establishment of committees of biomedical research ethics», and it was recommended «in very strong terms» that the main committee should request the Government to let the proposed arrangements «enter into force immediately» (10).
The following year, during question time in the Storting, Grete Knudsen (born 1940) asked «when the minister can promise that the committees will be established» (11). Minister Lars Roar Langslet (born 1936) reported that the universities had taken a positive view on incorporating the secretariats in the medical faculties, and that he was confident that «the Ministry of Social Affairs will support this measure by funding the operating costs». As regards his own ministry, he was confident that «in the very next days to come, we will find an arrangement for the secretariat function». They didn’t, however.