In this post, I asked four departing members of Council – Sian Harding, Ray Hill, Mick Moran and Alison Murdoch – to share their reflections on their time working with us.
How would you describe the Council in three words?
Sian: Civilised, rigorous, inclusive
Ray: ”Bioscience in context”
Mick: Argumentative, collegial, diverse
Alison: Open-minded, respectful, independent.
What has been the highlight of your time on the Council?
Sian: The Working Parties. Such luxury to spend a whole afternoon discussing the relation between genotype, disease and identity.
Ray: The chance to work with a stimulating and diverse group of people on important topics outside my usual sphere of interest.
Mick: Chairing the Working Party on Emerging Biotechnologies.
Alison: Meeting others from diverse backgrounds whose opinion I respect and whose knowledge and intellect was awesome.
What have you learnt from being on the Council?
Sian: The expertise and skill of the secretariat were a revelation. I sometimes wondered if they needed us at all.
Ray: That there is more to life than scientific data!
Mick: Blimey, how long have you got? I’ve learnt a huge amount about a whole range of important substantive issues in bioethics and health care. And on the experience of chairing the Working Party I’ve learnt that I should have pushed everyone to progress quicker at the start.
Alison: I work in a field in which there is such a lot of superficial, unhelpful ethical debate that tends to cause more confusion than clarity. It was a pleasure to find that in-depth consideration by the Council produced reports that do not denigrate the ethical concerns but define them and then find ways in which they can be managed. Many of the issues discussed were not subjects that I had previously given much thought to and had knowledge only from what was presented in the media. It was informative to be given the time and the knowledge to consider such issues in depth.
Anything you didn’t like?
Sian: The increasingly intimidating piles of paper, with manuscripts all needing line by line attention that arrived through the door before the meetings.
Mick: Hardly something I didn’t like, but I was struck by the extent to which membership of the Council dropped one into the pool of metropolitan debate. The Council lives in London and thinks from London. That’s the story of UK policy making.
Alison: Coming down to London for the whole day but only having a short (relatively) meeting was not the best use of my time.
If you could choose one of the Council’s policy recommendations (from any of its reports) to implement, which one would it be and why?
Sian: From several reports, the ideas that the restriction of access to personal medical data should be reformed to aid integrated patient care and increase the value of research data.
Ray: Seeing the acceptance of the recommendations of the dementia report in full would be very satisfying.
Mick: Here’s one from the emerging biotechnologies report: ‘where technical advice is sought by policy makers there should be a demonstrable attempt to avoid sole reliance on a limited range of established experts in particular fields.’ That fits the theme of the report: get out of the usual circles, and the usual modes of thinking.
What would you like to see the Council working on in the next five years?
Sian: Changing notions of privacy and the implications of this.
Ray: Carrying on with its informed yet opportunistic approach to important problems as they arise.
Mick: The ethics of austerity in health care.
And finally… what’s next for you?
Sian: Increased scientific interest in regenerative medicine. In terms of external activities, nothing could replace NCOB though.
Ray: No new bioethical activities but much to keep me busy with new start up companies to work with and a continuing role with the ACMD.
Mick: Back to the day job: tracking the financial crisis, and trying to stop the City of London wrecking the British economy.
Alison: I hope to continue to be active in the ethical and regulatory debates in my clinical field. Being on the Nuffield Council has helped to give me the confidence to follow this aim and to ensure that the quality of ethical debate is raised.
With thanks to:
Professor Sian Harding
Professor of Cardiac Pharmacology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London. Member of the Central Ethical Review Committee for Animal Studies and a Designated Person for administration of the Human Tissue Act.
Professor Ray Hill
Former Head of Licensing and External Research for Europe at Merck, Sharp and Dohme, President Emeritus of the British Pharmacological Society.
Professor Mick Moran
Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of Manchester, Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Party on Emerging Biotechnologies.
Professor Alison Murdoch
Professor of Reproductive Medicine, Consultant Gynaecologist and Head of the NHS Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life