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Creating a ‘Father Confessor’: the origins of research ethics committees in UK military medical research, 1950–1970. Part II, origins and organisation
  1. Ulf Schmidt
  1. School of History, Centre for the History of Medicine, Ethics and Medical Humanities, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Ulf Schmidt, School of History, Centre for the History of Medicine, Ethics and Medical Humanities, University of Kent KIMHS, Canterbury CT2 7NZ, UK; U.I.Schmidt{at}


Using a major ethics crisis as a methodological approach to study secret science environments, part II examines the origins and organisation of the Applied Biology Committee (ABC), the first independent research ethics committee (REC) at Porton Down, Britain’s biological and chemical warfare establishment since the First World War. Although working in great secrecy, the UK military, and Porton in particular, did not operate in a social, political and legal vacuum. Paradigm shifts in civilian medical ethics, or public controversy about atomic, chemical and biological weapons, could thus influence Porton’s self-perception and the conduct of its research. The paper argues that the creation of the first REC at Porton in 1965, that is, the ABC, as the father confessor inside the UK’s military research establishment reflected a broader paradigm shift in the field of human research ethics in the mid-1960s.

  • medical ethics
  • military
  • health
  • research
  • research ethics committee

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  • Contributors This was written solely by the author

  • Funding The original work was supported through a Wellcome Trust-funded project grant "Cold War at Porton Down: Medical Ethics and the Legal Dimension of Britain's Biological and Chemical Warfare Programme, 1945-1989" (073435)

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement There are no data in this work.

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