All blog posts by Peter Mills

  • Very quietly, last month, NHS Digital, the national authority that governs information relating to health and social care provision in England, renewed its memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Home Office to share information about ‘immigration offenders’ (such as those entering the UK without proper papers and asylum seekers who have had their asylum claims rejected).  The original MoU between NHS Digital and the Home Office was introduced, very quietly, over a year ago. (more…)

  • One place that social epistemologists tracking contemporary manifestations of the ‘two cultures’ problem can still find rich material is the encounter between the biological scientists and the ‘security community’.  And one of the most recent sites for this encounter is the security implications of genome editing.  This was the subject of an international workshop last week organised by the Inter Academy Partnership, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, the German National Academy for Sciences (Leopoldina), and the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and hosted by the Volkswagen Foundation.


  • Last month I spoke at the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) annual conference in Jerusalem about genome editing, bioethics and human rights. My invitation came via the Bioethics Committee of the Council of Europe, of which I was a member until the end of 2016, although my talk offered a personal perspective and not that of the Committee.  The Council of Europe is the body responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights and (among other things) the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine; formed in 1947 and therefore predating the communities that became the European Union, the Council of Europe has 47 members (whereas the EU has 28 – all too soon to be 27), encompassing states from Ireland and Portugal in the west and Iceland in the north to Russia and Azerbaijan in the East and Cyprus in the south.  My contribution was part of a ‘science and society’ session at the conference.  In an otherwise rather technical event, the session was well attended and – judging from the discussion – the audience was very thoughtfully engaged with the issues.  The following picks out some of the points from my presentation and was previously posted to the FEBS Network.


  • When I worked at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the early years of the present century we still had a working fax machine. It sat on a filing cabinet in the middle of our floor, in a shared office building in the vicinity of Liverpool Street station. If, on any given morning, the mainstream media had happened to scratch at a contentious issue that pushed against the boundaries of our small and orderly world, it was a fair bet that at some point, as the day thickened towards lunchtime, the fax machine would begin to whir and grind. Out of it would emerge, line by line, on (I remember now) either green or lilac paper, an admonitory epistle in verse. Sometimes the poet would castigate the Authority for some regulatory decision or omission; more often than not, however, the poem would end with an unanswerable gesture into the horizonless, oceanic nihil ulterius. Where (the poet asked) will it all end?


  • On Saturday our Assistant Director Peter Mills was in Washington, DC, to present at the AAAS Annual Meeting on Global Science Engagement. The following is a transcript of his talk from the session on Precision medicine and bioethics

    I want to preface my remarks by saying something about what I see as the work of bioethics in relation to the emergence of precision medicine. Bioethics is often seen, wrongly, as impeding science and innovation: an unnecessary subterfuge that distracts from the ‘vital’ work of science and raises obstacles in the path of progress. I want to recall that what drives developments in bioscience and biomedicine – and the funding of science and scientists – is a profoundly moral impulsion to improve human health and wellbeing. Bioethics is not against but on the side of this impulse. It recognises, however, that to achieve its ends this impulse has to find expression in a more complex moral and social reality. (more…)