The remarkable progress of biomedical sciences and biotechnology, and its applications in medical practice, are confronting our societies with new ethical dilemmas, extending from traditional medical ethics to the many emerging areas of bioethics.

The particular contribution of CIOMS in this field has been the issuance of international guidelines for the application of ethical principles in various key areas. Specific reference should also be made to the "Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Protection of Prisoners Against Torture", prepared by CIOMS at the invitation of WHO and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in March 1983. Another very important milestone is the International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects (developed in conjunction with WHO), which superseded Proposed Ethical Guidelines (1982) and were published in 1993. They have been very widely utilized, particularly in low-resource countries. In 1999-2002 the Guidelines were revised and updated. In 2002, CIOMS published the new text of the International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects which are available on the CIOMS website. Moreover, translations of the Guidelines have been made into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

A chapter by Professor Juhana E. Idänpään-Heikkilä and Mr Sev Fluss, CIOMS, describing the 2002 Guidelines was included in The Oxford Textbook of Clinical Research Ethics.

In 1991, CIOMS issued the International Guidelines for Ethical Review of Epidemiological Studies. In 2003, CIOMS initiated the revision of these Guidelines by establishing a multidisciplinary Core Group which has collected comments on the draft revision of the guidelines from various institutions, organizations and individual experts involved in ethics and epidemiological research. CIOMS published the new revised and updated text in 2009. 

New developments in research have prompted CIOMS to once again revise their ethical guidelines. In 2010, the Executive Committee of CIOMS decided to revise the 2002 version of the CIOMS Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research involving human beings. The result will be available in the form of a new publication (to be announced in advance on the CIOMS website). In this new 2016 version of the ethical Guidelines entitled International ethical guidelines for health-related research involving humans and prepared in collaboration with WHO, CIOMS provides answers to a number of pressing issues in research ethics. The Council does so by stressing the need for research having scientific and social value, by providing special guidelines for health-related research in low-resource settings, by detailing the provisions for involving vulnerable groups in research and for describing under what conditions biological samples and health-related data can be used for research. Several publications and events are planned for 2016/2017 to introduce the new Guidelines.

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