Thank you for your interest in Council membership. The following is designed to give an overview of the Council, its structure, the role of Council members, the membership appointment process and project work.

If you have any further questions, please explore our website, or contact us on 0207 681 9619 / cperkins@nuffieldbioethics.org.

General information about the Nuffield Council

The Nuffield Council onBioethics is an independent body that examines and reports on ethical issues inbiology and medicine. It was established by the Trustees of the Nuffield Foundation in1991, and since 1994 it has been funded jointly by the Foundation, Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.

The Council has achieved an international reputation for advising policy makers and stimulating debate in bioethics. Its Terms of Reference are:

  • To identify and define ethical questions raised by recent developments in biological and medical research that concern, or are likely to concern, the public interest;
  • To make arrangements for the independent examination of such questions with appropriate involvement of relevant stakeholders;
  • To inform and engage in policy and media debates about those ethical questions and provide informed comment on emerging issues related to or derived from the Council’s published or ongoing work; and
  • To make policy recommendations to Government or other relevant bodies and to disseminate its work through published reports, briefings and other appropriate outputs.

Structure of the Nuffield Council

The Nuffield Council consists of the Council itself; its Executive staff body; and a Governing Board.

  • The Council is the deliberative body. The main responsibilities of the role are to decide on the future work programme and strategic direction of the Council, scrutinise and ensure the quality of reports and other outputs, and make decisions on the membership and function of the organisation.

In addition, Council members normally become involved in the project work of the Council in a variety of ways, examples are being on a working group,participating in workshops, and advising on and reviewing Council publications such as briefing notes.

The Chair of Council is Professor David Archard, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast. There are usually around 15 members, with a variety of backgrounds, and a list of current Council members can be found here.

Council membership – role description, code of conduct, terms of office, time commitment and remuneration

The role description for members is here and there is also a Code of Conduct, which outlines the standards of behaviour expected of Council members.

The initial term for membership is three years, with the possibility of renewal for one to three years depending on an individual’s preference and their performance. Renewals may be for a period of one to three years depending on an individual’s circumstances. The Membership Committee discusses renewals and makes recommendations to the Council who have the final decision.

The Council meets four times a year, and this will involve reading a substantial set of papers. Council members may also be part of the Council committees, which look after membership and horizon scanning activities. Other possibilities include being part of a subgroup which supports project work by taking a more focussed interest; providing advice and reviewing materials; attending events such as workshops; writing blogs; and generally providing advice to the Executive.

Council members may also be on a working group which develops a report. This would significantly add to the time commitment in terms of project work and meetings (roughly 10 times over an 18month to two-year period).

Please note that members do not receive remuneration, but reasonable travel expenses are paid.

  • The Executive is a team of 12 people that provide project management support, assists with drafting and researching the Council’s publications. Staff organise workshops, meetings, events, and represent the Council at professional and public meetings. The team also manage the financial, administrative, and external relations functions of the Council.

A list of the Executive is here.

  • The Governing Board is appointed by the Council’s funders. It is responsible for reviewing and challenging the work of the Council, providing assurance that the Council is operating within its remit and is committing expenditure in line with the terms of the funding grant and the goals of the Strategic Plan. Specifically, the Governing Board approves topic selections, budget and annual work plans, and oversees risk management and financial operations. The Governing Board meets twice a year with the Council’s Chair and Director in attendance.

How Council members are chosen

The Council has an open and transparent process for selecting new members and a policy and procedures note is here.

As a deliberative body, the Council aims to maintain a wide range of expertise including members with backgrounds in science, medicine, social science, philosophy, law, policy and public affairs, media, communications, industry and theology. The Council is keen to encourage a broad range of applications, including those from non-academics, and from people at all stages in their career.

The Council has a Membership Committee, which recommends which disciplines should be advertised, monitors the make-up and diversity of the Council, shortlists, interviews and makes appointment recommendations. It has an independent Chair and has members from the Council and its Governing Board.

When vacancies arise, they are advertised in a variety of ways, including relevant media, newsletters, social media, through relevant organisations, networks, professional bodies and charities. Applications are considering and shortlisted by the Membership Committee, candidates are interviewed, and recommendations are then made to the Council who have the final decision.

Selection is based on the following criteria:

  • Must be able to demonstrate an interest in bioethics;
  • Must be willing to contribute to bioethical debate in an open and constructive manner;
  • Must be prepared and able to work with others;
  • Must have good skills in analysis and communication.

Project work

We are most well-known for our in-depth reports, which tackle some of the most difficult issues in bioethics and have significant impact – both nationally and internationally. However, our work reaches beyond this through consultative processes, meetings, workshops,briefing documents, and involvement in media.

In-depth inquiries

In-depth inquiries have been our core activity since the Council’s establishment in 1991. Our inquiries usually take 18-24 months, are overseen by an expert working group, and are informed by extensive consultation and research. Each working group will have two to three Council members on it. They have resulted in over 30 detailed reports or publications on a range of bioethics topics, many of which have been influential in informing policy,practice and public debate.

The topics of these reports are selected by Council and recent examples are non-invasive prenatal testing,cosmetic procedures, genome editing and involving children and young people in health research. Current projects are research in global health emergencies and genome editing in farmed animals.

Responsive activities

In addition to our in-depth inquiries, we aim to respond more rapidly to developments and debates in medicine and bioscience. We do this through a number of activities, including:

  • Publishing briefing papers
  • Organising workshops, roundtable meetings and other events
  • Providing media interviews and comments, and briefings for journalists on bioethics topics
  • Writing opinion articles for the Council’s blog
  • Briefing parliamentarians ahead of parliamentary debates on bioethics topics
  • Contributing to parliamentary and government consultations
  • Contributing to ongoing policy discussions by taking part in meetings and giving presentations

We have recently published briefing notes on patient access to experimental treatments; whole genome sequencing in newborns; medical implants; patient access to experimental treatments; and disagreements in the care of critically ill children. We are currently working on a briefing note on meat alternatives.

How topics are selected – horizon scanning

Topics are selected through our horizon scanning programme, which aims to identify developments relevant to biological and medical research.

We carry out our horizon scanning programme by engaging with a wide range of organisations and individuals, and by monitoring literature and news, across a wide geographical area and different fields of interest and expertise. The Council’s Horizon Scanning Advisory Group oversees the programme.

Initiating a new activity

We choose to carry out work on topics where a response from the Council is anticipated to be timely,distinctive and helpful in terms of informing policy and public discussion.

As set out above, the Council has different approaches to exploring different topics. We may choose to explore some topics in a short time frame by, for example, organising a workshop or developing a briefing note. Some topics will go on to be explored in an in-depth project. These projects taking 18-24 months to complete and resulting in a detailed report with policy recommendations.

For a topic to be selected for an in-depth project, it should meet the following criteria:

  1. Does the topic come within the broad sphere of research in the medical or biological sciences, align with the Council’s strategic plan, and fit within a balanced portfolio of work?
  2. Is the topic ‘new’ or are there any new reasons for looking at it?
  3. Is the topic timely?
  4. Does it raise significant ethical questions?
  5. Does it have significant policy relevance and/or will it anticipate or respond to public concern?
  6. Can the Council make a distinctive contribution?

Once topics are chosen by the Council, they are then passed along to the Governing Board to make sure they fall within the Council’s terms of reference.

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