The terms used in the documents linked to in this website are many, and can easily create confusion. There are many different types of ethical and legal regulations - together constituting a regulatory system - and they are obligatory to varying degrees.
In this section, we introduce most types, on roughly a decreasing scale from the most obligatory to the completely voluntary. In practice, a regulation's status is often unclear and a more thorough assessment of its obligatory character is necessary.
From laws to councel
Laws are established by the Swedish Parliament and include sanctions of various types. Of similar legally binding character are Statutes or Ordinances, which are issued by the government, and authorities' regulations and directives, which are issued with support from laws and ordinances and after authorization from Parliament and the government. Furthermore, authorities may make decisions in various cases after authorization from Parliament and the government. General counsel is the authorities' recommendations on application of statutes, which are to be followed - failure to do so can result in sanctions in certain cases. According to the National Board of Health and Welfare, regulations can be described as binding rules whereas general counsel "contains recommendations on how a statute can or should be applied and does not exclude other ways to attain the goal addressed in the statute". The difference between an obligatory or binding rule and one that is "non-binding" is often evident in word usage: the former uses words like "shall", "must" and "is obligated to", whereas the latter uses words like "should".
The European Union
Internationally, Sweden must follow EU ordinances and directives. Ordinances are immediately binding for all member countries and take precedence over national laws, whereas directives are binding for member countries with respect to goals, but allow free choice of means, i.e. the countries themselves decide what will be done to comply with the directive's regulations. The EU also makes decisions, which are binding for those they are directed to - individuals, companies or a country. The commission occasionally issues guidelines and principles, which are often not of a binding nature. A Green Paper is a consultation document issued by the commission which contains policy proposals for debate and discussion by interested parties, organisations, and persons. Following this consultation the European Union will normally publish firmer, official recommendations in a White Paper, which often lead to regulatory initiatives.
Conventions are a type of agreement, a voluntary framework that participating countries bind themselves to follow. An example is the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Conventions contain a much greater degree of voluntariness, and even if obligatory by international law they are often unclear - at least in practice - with regard to sanctions. These agreements are often entered into by countries or organisations and are less often directed toward individuals. Most often, similar terms are used, such as treaties, agreements, act, charter , concordat, covenant, pact, and protocol.
Other types of guidelines
The status of guidelines varies, and can thus be binding to varying degrees. The word 'rules' often stands for just such guidelines but can also be used more widely, for all types of guiding principles, of which the name of this website is one example. Such documents' legal status must be examined in each individual case.
Declarations, resolutions and statements represent the declaration of a certain interpretation and are generally issued by organisations. Normally, they consist of appeals for certain ethical approaches. They are sometimes also described as decisions, as in the case of WHO. These are normally not binding, but can occasionally be given a status similar to conventions. Members of the organisation are naturally expected to follow its declarations - and consequences of not doing so can sometimes be warnings and, ultimately, dismissal from the organisation. Generally, these documents can be called the organisation's policy documents. Occasionally, even declarations can have a high status, such as the Helsinki Declaration, which forms the basis for research ethics committees and similar bodies around the world (which often have support through laws). Other variants that sometimes occur are recommendations, opinions, statements, position papers and expert's reports. These are most often not intended to be binding, but Swedish authorities, for instance, have considered it problematic to depart from the Council of Europe's recommendations.
Ethical codes most often have an even more pronounced voluntary character. Some are linked to the means to impose sanctions, usually dismissal from the organisation that adopted the code in question, whereas others have no such means available. They usually take up relations not regulated by law and often concentrate on how those affected by the code conduct themselves in relation to their work, as well as the consequences the work can have for other people, the organisation, the environment, etc. Whereas declarations and policy documents are often drawn up by associations of organisations, codes often belong to an individual organisation, particularly in cases of work ethics codes.
Finally, appeals and manifestos can be created by individuals, temporary groups or conferences, and in principal lack the means to impose sanctions.