A questionnaire on the attitudes towards the functions of research ethical committees was sent to members of selected research ethical committees in Wessex and some controls. Almost all respondents felt there was a need for ethical review of research projects; 42 per cent thought there was a need for some training before joining a committee; 67 per cent thought the system could be improved and 47 per cent thought that monitoring or follow-up procedures should be adopted. Ethical committees were thought to be purely advisory, as opposed to mandatory, by 33 per cent, and 63 per cent thought they should restrict their review to ethical problems as opposed to scientific or design problems. Views about the function of non-medical members ranged from 'none at all' to 'very important'. Of the 10 controls who were asked whether they would become a member of an ethical committee if asked, seven said that on balance they would and the reasons stated varied from the view that it was a 'very important committee' to the feeling that it was 'a necessary but irksome job'.