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Nuffield Council on Bioethics UPDATE

Summer 2011    

This issue of UPDATE brings you highlights of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ recent activities, including the publication of a major report on biofuels and new teaching resources on personalised healthcare.
Get involved by responding to our consultation on emerging biotechnologies, talking to us on Facebook and Twitter, or coming to one of our events – our 20th anniversary symposium on global health inequalities on 22 June promises to be one of the highlights in the Council’s 2011 calendar.

Consultation on emerging biotechnologies

The Council is calling for views and evidence on the ethical issues raised by emerging biotechnologies. By looking at current examples, such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology, and taking lessons from older cases, such as IVF and GM crops, we are interested in the way society and policy makers respond to new biotechnologies and how benefits can be secured in an ethically appropriate manner. All responses will be considered carefully, and we aim to publish our final report in autumn 2012. The deadline for responses is 15 June 2011. Find out more

New teaching resources

New teaching resources based on the Council’s report on the ethical issues arising from new types of ‘personalised healthcare' are available to download free from the Council’s website. The resources are suitable for use in science, ICT, philosophy and PSHE lessons and include three case studies:

  • Personal genetic profiling
  • Buying medicines online
  • Health information websites
Resources on dementia, the forensic use of bioinformation and animal research are also available. Find out more and download resources
Current biofuels policies drive unethical practices, says the Council
Following an 18-month inquiry, the Council published the report Biofuels: ethical issues on 13 April 2011. The Council concludes that current UK and European biofuel policies encourage unethical practices, such as deforestation and human rights abuses. To prevent these types of problems and to create a market for ethically produced biofuels, the Council recommends that there should be a set of overarching ethical principles, enforced through a certification scheme, that all biofuels have to meet before they can be used in and imported into the UK and Europe, and ideally worldwide. Our ethical principles state that biofuels:
1      should not be developed at the expense of human rights
2      should be environmentally sustainable
3      should contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
4      should adhere to fair trade principles
5      and that the costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way.
Policy makers are also urged to incentivise research on new biofuels technologies that need less land and fewer other resources, avoid social and environmental harms, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report was a launched at a public seminar in London and has been discussed extensively in the media. Find out more
Forward Look 2011
Each spring, we hold a ‘Forward Look’ seminar, where Council members and invited guests discuss potential future work topics for the Council. This year’s meeting, held on 19-20 May in London, considered four topics:

  • germline therapies
  • hyper-expensive new therapies and the prioritisation of R&D
  • genomics, health records, database linkage and privacy
  • pandemics
To inform the discussions, external experts were commissioned to produce briefing papers on each of the topics, and these are now available to download from the Council’s website. The Council will decide which topics to explore further at its meeting in June.
Global health symposium, 22 June
Bringing together academics and practitioners from around the world, this symposium will consider the most urgent bioethical question of our time: how should the responsibility for tackling global health inequalities be met? The meeting will bring out a range of international perspectives on the ethical and policy issues raised by the challenge of global health, and will ask what contribution the Council can make. Find out more
The symposium is now full. To be added to the waiting list please contact:
Annual lecture
Baroness Onora O’Neill gave the Council's annual public lecture in London on Thursday 19 May 2011. The lecture, entitled ‘Broadening bioethics: clinical ethics, public health and global health’, was part of the Council’s 20th anniversary celebrations. View a video and download a transcript of the lecture

Other current projects

  • The Working Party on human bodies in medicine and research will publish its findings in mid-October 2011. Find out more
  • A workshop was held on 13 May as part of the Council’s six-month fellowship on solidarity as a core value in contemporary bioethics. Following presentations from experts in the field, Dr Barbara Prainsack, who holds the fellowship, presented and discussed with invited guests the preliminary findings of the project. A further workshop is planned in July, and the final report will be published towards the end of 2011. Find out more
  • A Working Party on novel neurotechnologies will begin work towards the end of 2011. More information to follow.
Update on previous projects

  • The Council worked with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to put on a series of seminars on ethics and policy in dementia care. The three seminars, which took place in London throughout March, each focussed on an aspect of the Council’s ethical framework as set out in its 2009 report Dementia: ethical issues: 1) relational autonomy and improving decision-making 2) personhood and promoting respect and 3) solidarity and the impact of the Big Society on the care of people with dementia. Guests and speakers included academic researchers, policy makers and legal experts. Reports of the discussions will soon be available on the Council's website.
 Other events
8 June - The ethics of synthetic biology
Cheltenham Town Hall, 6.30pm
To coincide with the Council’s consultation on emerging biotechnologies, this debate at the Cheltenham Science Festival will consider the ethical issues raised by synthetic biology. Television presenter Adam Rutherford, ethicist Andy Miah and social scientist Jane Calvert (member of the Council’s Working Party on emerging biotechnologies) tackle the tricky ethical questions thrown up by what some describe as a mere extension of biology and others believe is ‘playing God’. Find out more

15 June - Fuelling the debate: the ethics of biofuels
Dana Centre, London, 7.00pm - 9.00pm
Members of the Council's Working Party on biofuels will be on the panel for a debate on the ethics of biofuels at the Science Museum's Dana Centre. Find out more

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