Forward look: thoughts from a new Council member

by Sir Roland Jackson, Council member

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has built itself a formidable reputation over the years for the penetrating and thorough analysis it has provided on ethical issues in the bioscience and medical fields. So, joining the Council in March was a great privilege and it was with some trepidation that I joined the phalanx of ethicists, philosophers, lawyers, medical and bioscience researchers and the like for my first Council meeting and then, last week, for the 2-day annual ‘Forward Look’ session.The Council is best known for its heavyweight, in every sense of the word, reports, covering areas such as animal research, emerging biotechnologies, donor conception, genetics and dementia. It is one thing to produce these superb reports, which remain valuable reference material, but another to translate this deep analysis into practical policy and societal impact.

That was a balance running through the Forward Look meeting, at which we discussed four specific areas of potential interest and significance for the future work of the Council, stimulated by contrasting expert presentations: research integrity; aesthetic and cosmetic procedures; expensive and life-extending treatments; and cross-border care. The challenge was both to establish whether or not there were significant ethical questions which the work of the Council could explore and bring to focus and to identify the best ways of taking that strand of work forward; whether through a report, by convening workshops, through educational initiatives or by other means.

Suffice it to say that with one major report  (on donor conception) just published, one (on novel neurotechnologies) about to be published, and two other significant strands of work just starting (on biological and health data, and on children and clinical research) the Council came to the view that there was no imperative nor indeed resource to rush into a further strand of activity. Each of the four areas raised wider links, including to previous reports and analysis, and all, with the possible exception of cross-border care given the lack of current and sufficiently extensive data, remain live for further development. In addition, cross-cutting issues cropped up in all of them, particularly from my perspective the role of commercialisation and the market approach and philosophy contrasted with an emphasis on the public good.

It is difficult to imagine a more stimulating and challenging group of people than my fellow Council members and the Council’s staff, and I look forward to the future work and to joining the Working Party on Children and Clinical Research.

Roland Jackson

Executive Chair, Sciencewise

@Roland_Jackson

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