How does the Council ‘do’ ethics?

The Council’s work is guided by its terms of reference. These require it “to identify and define ethical questions raised by recent advances in biological and medical research …” Ethical frameworks for consideration of particular issues are developed on a case by case basis by working groups in consultation with the Council. The Council is committed to developing explicit ethical frameworks, norms, and principles that can be applied coherently and consistently to the issue in hand, and in particular can underpin the conclusions and recommendations reached in the Council’s reports.

The Council takes the view that its terms of reference do not require it (or its working groups) to adopt the same ethical framework or set of principles in all reports. The Council is therefore not bound by the values of particular schools of philosophy (for example, utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics) or approaches in bioethics, such as the ‘four principles of bioethics’ (autonomy, justice, beneficence, non-maleficence), or the Barcelona Principles (autonomy, dignity, integrity, vulnerability).

Download the 2006 external review of the way ethical frameworks feature in the Council’s publications (PDF) by Sarah Chan and John Harris.

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