2012 will be remembered for many things, and for the Council it was a particularly eventful year. There were several ‘firsts’ as we took new directions to promote discussion and inform policy in bioethics, whilst staying true to our task of providing timely, independent and balanced advice. Here are some of our highlights of the year.
In January we were delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Jonathan Montgomery as the new Chair of Council. Jonathan is a Professor of Health Care Law at the University of Southampton and Chair of the SHIP PCT cluster. Jonathan began his term as Chair in March, succeeding Professor Albert Weale, who had chaired the Council since 2008.
In February we announced a new Working Party on donor conception. This project is exploring the ethical issues that arise around the disclosure of information in connection with donor-conceived people. This is a short project by the Council’s usual standards, with the report set to be published in spring 2013.
March and April marked the novel neurotechnologies public consultation, exploring the ethics of ‘intervening’ in the brain through devices such as brain-computer interfaces, deep brain stimulation, and neural stem cell therapy. The consultation launch received significant media interest and the video interview with members of the Working Party was the most watched clip of 2012 on our YouTube channel.
In May we were pleased to welcome Dr Amar Jesani, Editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics to the UK to present the Council’s annual public lecture in London. Dr Jesani shared his insights on the interests and actors involved in shaping global health policies and their impact on developing countries, using India as a case study.
Also in May, in addition to Dr Jesani’s talk, guests at the public lecture also enjoyed a screening of the winning films of the Council’s student film-making competition, Box Office Bioethics, which took place for the first time in 2012. We hope to see the competition grow in years to come.
In June we published our report on mitochondrial DNA disorders. This was a much quicker project than usual for us, which aimed to provide a timely look at the ethical aspects of novel prevention techniques for mitochondrial DNA disease, to support ongoing policy discussion. And timely it was, as the HFEA launched a public consultation just a couple of months later. The debate looks set to continue as this area of science advances, and we were pleased to see this report make it into the Nature Medicine ‘What made the news in 2012’.
Later in June, Council representatives attended the 11th World Congress of Bioethics in Rotterdam to host a seminar on organ and tissue donation and participate in several other events.
In July, Director Hugh Whittall spoke at a seminar on bioenergy hosted by the Parliamentary Office on Science and Technology (POST). The event marked the launch of a POST note on bioenergy, which referenced the Council’s 2011 report Biofuels: ethical issues.
August saw the publication of our strategic plan for 2012-2016, the culmination of a wide ranging strategic review which began in 2011. We look forward to carrying through these objectives in 2013 and beyond.
September brought another international event, the 9th Global Summit of National Ethics Committees in Carthage, Tunisia, where we presented our work on organ and tissue donation, dementia, public health and showcased our teaching resources.
September was also the month during which we launched this blog, written by staff and Council members to bring you our latest news and comment on developments in bioethics related to our current and previous work.
In October we announced a call for interest in joining the Council. We will sadly soon be saying goodbye to a number of current Council members who will finish their 6 year terms, but we look forward to welcoming several new faces to the Council in early 2013. News of the appointments will be posted on our website once confirmed.
In November it was time to review the developments that had occurred since the publication of ‘Human bodies: donation for medicine and research’. One of the most noteworthy of these being the proposed changes in Wales to the requirements for consent to organ donation, in order to introduce an ‘opt-out’ system. We responded to this consultation in September and will continue to follow developments in 2013.
December brought the publication of another major Council report: Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and the public good, which sets out a ‘public ethics’ approach to help guide improved practice in policy making, research and regulation of emerging biotechnologies. Following on from the report launch event on 13th December (see previous post) we will be organising a series of in depth seminars with key individuals and organisations in early 2013 to continue the conversation.
And so, with a busy 2012 under our belts, we look forward to the year ahead that looks set to be just as exciting and eventful. The next blog post will look at what we have coming up in 2013…