This week, Nature reports on an alternative (or supplementary) model, the ethics consultancy.
[Dolgin, Elie. “Human-Subjects Research: The Ethics Squad.” Nature 514, no. 7523 (October 21, 2014): 418–20. doi:10.1038/514418a.]
As reporter Elie Dolgin explains,
Ethical dilemmas in research are nothing new; what is new is that scientists can go to formal ethics consultancies such as [Tomas] Silber's to get advice. Unlike the standard way that scientists receive ethical guidance, through institutional review boards (IRBs), these services offer non-binding counsel. And because they do not form part of the regulatory process, they can weigh in on a wider range of issues — from mundane matters of informed consent and study protocol to controversial topics such as the use of experimental Ebola treatments — and offer more creative solutions.
Technically, that's a non sequitur; there's no regulatory prohibition preventing IRBs from weighing in on controversial topics or offering creative solutions, only a bar to "consider[ing] possible long-range effects of applying knowledge gained in the research." In practice, the coercive nature of IRB review often makes researchers less receptive to IRB counsel and chokes off productive discussions.