The Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) is charged with offering advice on ethical issues regarding human health and to develop guidelines for human research.
One of the CEO's functions under the NHMRC Act is to inquire into, issue guidelines on, and advise the community on ethical issues relating to health. This function includes the issuing of human research guidelines. Under Section 10(2) of the NHMRC Act, the NHMRC Council may only provide human research guidelines to the CEO under Section 9(1) precisely as developed by AHEC.
The functions of AHEC, as set out in Section 35(3) of the NHMRC Act, are:
- to advise the Council on the ethical issues relating to health; and
- to develop and give the Council human research guidelines under subsection 10(2) of the NHMRC Act; and
- any other functions conferred on the Committee in writing by the Minister after consulting the CEO; and
- any other functions conferred on the Committee by the NHMRC Act, the regulations or any other law.
In the course of its activities, AHEC consults extensively with individuals, community organisations, health professionals and governments, and undertakes formal public consultation when developing guidelines. AHEC may also provide advice on international developments in health ethics issues.
AHEC's composition is specified in the NHMRC Act. Members draw on expertise in philosophy, the ethics of medical research, public health and social science research, clinical medical practice and nursing, disability, law, religion and health consumer issues.
Under Section 36(2) of the NHMRC Act, there must be included among members of AHEC individuals who collectively have membership of all the other Principal Committees.