Research Ethics in Switzerland

Research ethics concerns all researchers. Depending on the field of research, the methodology, the sensitivity of the research topic, the vulnerability of the participants, the research data used, the funding agency, etc., specific ethical guidelines must be observed and an approval from an ethics committee might be required. The information below provides initial guidance on research ethics in Switzerland and is not exhaustive. It is recommended to seek information and assistance from the relevant local ethics committee.

Mandatory Submission of Research Projects for Ethics Approval in Switzerland

1) Research concerning human diseases and the structure and function of the human body

Research projects that are subject to the federal Human Research Act (HRA) must be submitted to the competent cantonal ethics committee which is responsible at the site of activity of the project coordinator (the lead committee) (HRA, ch. 8). The application is to be sent to the respective ethics committee via the Business Administration System for Ethics Committees (BASEC).

The website of the Coordination Office for Human Research (kofam) provides an overview and extensive basic information on the regulation of human research in Switzerland. For example, it outlines the relevant legislation and explains the roles of the various stakeholders. Kofam is operated by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). It has a coordinating role in the field of human research in Switzerland and provides information to the general public and to researchers in this context.

Swissethics is the umbrella organisation of the cantonal Ethics Committees in Switzerland.

2) Research on animals

Research on animals requires an authorisation by the responsible cantonal authorities (i.e. its veterinary office). Legally relevant are the Animal Welfare Act (part. Art. §§17-22) and the Animal Protection Ordinance. The website of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) provides information pertaining to application and authorisation for animal experimentation. In addition, researchers should be aware of and follow the guidelines of the Ethics Committee for Animal Experimentation (ECAE) as well as the Swiss Transparency Agreement on Animal Research (STAAR).

3) Research on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) or pathogens

Specific rules apply for research projects in which genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are produced or used or in which pathogenic organisms are involved. These activities carried out in the laboratory or in the field require authorisation or confirmation of registration by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). The Federal Coordination Centre for Biotechnology manages the notification and authorisation procedure for all activities involving genetically modified organisms, pathogenic organisms and alien organisms in contained systems as defined in the ContainO (Art. 3).

4) Research involving the use of genetic resources

„The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing, which was negotiated within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, regulates access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation.“ Further information is available on the website of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).

5) Research involving work with potential for military applications (so-called “dual-use technologies”)

The export of dual-use, military and strategic goods is subject to authorisation by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in accordance with the Swiss Federal Act on the Control of Dual-Use Goods, Specific Military Goods and Strategic Goods (Goods Control Act, GCA, RS 946.202) and its ordinance (OCB RS 946.202.1). The term “goods” includes commodities, technologies and software. Further information, forms and instructions can be found on the SECO website.

Further guidelines on research ethics

Research projects that are not subject to the Human Research Act but involve human participants (e.g. in the social sciences, in history, economics, behavioural sciences, etc.) are not required by law to be reviewed by an ethics committee. However, institutional regulations, funding agency and journal policies, and discipline-specific guidelines may require or recommend that these research projects be reviewed by an ethics committee. Many universities in Switzerland have their own ethics committees. These committees may be located at the departmental, faculty or university level. For more information, we recommend that you contact your institution directly.

Below follows a non-exhaustive list of discipline-specific ethical guidelines with recommendations for researchers. If you know of a guideline that is missing here, please contact the editorial team of

List of discipline-specific ethical guidelines


Ethical guidelines for psychologists (German only) are provided by the Ethics Committee of the Swiss Society of Psychology (SGP). This committee was founded in 2006 and has the task of creating normative foundations for the ethical review of psychological research. It supports Swiss universities in setting up ethics committees and acts as a second opinion body in the event of recourse to the decisions of local psychological or cantonal ethics committees. It also serves as a point of contact and advisory board for national research funding agencies, ethics committees of other disciplines, political authorities, etc.


The Ethical Guidelines of the Swiss Sociological Association (German only) were published in 2007 and are intended to make sociologists aware of ethical problems in their research practice and to encourage them to critically examine their own professional actions.


The Swiss Historical Society (SHS) has developed a code of ethics (German and French only) that provides historians in Switzerland with a framework for ethical decision-making in research and teaching.


The Swiss Anthropological Association’s (SAA) Ethical and Deontological Think Tank (EDTT) is a platform for debate and exchange on ethical issues in the anthropological research process. The group produced an initial paper on research ethics entitled „An ethical charter for ethnologists?“, which was adopted by the SAA General Assembly in 2010. The statement prioritises respect and protection for interlocutors in a project. The EDTT has also published a collection of ethical case studies, a paper on legal requirements and research ethics and a position paper on Open Science and Data Management in Anthropological Research. The position paper welcomes discussions about Open Science and Open Data but also points out possible reservations, concluding that „the single clearest benefit of this new paradigm lies not in its encouragement towards openness but in its reminders about closure“.

Forschungsethik in der Schweiz

Forschende, welche ein Forschungsprojekt betreuen, das unter das Humanforschungsgesetz fällt, sind rechtlich verpflichtet die Einwilligung einer Ethikkommission einzuholen. Auch für andere Forschungsbereiche (z. B. Forschung an Tieren) besteht eine Bewilligungspflicht.
Forschungsprojekte, die nicht unter das Humanforschungsgesetz fallen, aber mit menschlichen Teilnehmenden arbeiten, sind gesetzlich nicht zu einer Prüfung verpflichtet. Auch hier sind jedoch forschungsethische Fragen relevant und es gilt, institutionelle Regelungen, Richtlinien von Förderorganisationen und Zeitschriften sowie disziplinspezifische Leitlinien zu beachten.