June in Mexico City: Global Bioethics

Hugh Whittall photo HS low res

Hugh Whittall, Director

Part 1 – The Global Summit

It’s over a fortnight since I got back from Mexico City, where I had a busy week at the Global Summit (of National Ethics Committees) and the World Congress (of the International Association of Bioethics). If they sound like pretty grand events, they do sometimes look that way too. Here is the set-up for the Global Summit: Continue reading

‘To be or not to be?’ Is that the Question?


Professor Jonathan Montgomery, Chair

Twitter: @Prof_JonMont


This morning, an unprecedented number of peers are seeking to speak in the Second Reading of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. Anglican Archbishops have taken to the newspapers to contribute their views. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, wrote in the Daily Mail that ‘the case of Mr Nicklinson had exerted the ‘deepest influence’ on him. ‘His distress made me question my motives in previous debates. Had I been putting doctrine before compassion, dogma before human dignity?’ In the Observer, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was reported as being in favour of assisted dying, saying ‘What is life? And isn’t death part of living – a natural part of life?’ and reflected on the indignities to which Nelson Mandela was subjected at the end of his life.The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (writing in the Times, behind a paywall but with a free text on his own website) criticised such interventions for being unduly based on personal connections – ‘it is not compassion if in voting for my companion I expose others to danger…. compassion cannot be shown through the sort of discrimination that elevates one person’s experience, however dear he or she might be to me, above the experience of many others.’

Continue reading

Young people’s voices go global: ethics, collaboration and engagement in international health research


Professor Bobbie Farsides, Council Member and Chair of the Working Party on Children and Clinical Research


Around this time last year we held the first stakeholder meeting of the Working Party on Children and Clinical Research. An amazing group of young people joined us to share their knowledge and experience of participating in clinical research, and they gave us a pretty firm steer on how to take things forward.  The meeting had been prompted in part by a comment made by the Chair of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who in a different forum had made it clear that any document offering guidance on the treatment of children and young people in a medical setting needed to have been written with their involvement and participation. ‘Nothing about me without me’ had to become part of our way of thinking. Continue reading

Discussing science culture: replication, publication, and more….

Anna Wilkinson

Anna Wilkinson, Programme Officer


Earlier this year, science hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. A high profile piece of stem cell research, published in Nature and initially hailed as breakthrough work, attracted a different kind of attention when people started asking questions about the underlying science. Continue reading

Let’s talk (some more) about dementia

Sarah Bougourd  Sarah Walker-Robson, Communications Manager

The first report launch I worked on here at the Nuffield Council was the 2009 publication ‘Dementia: ethical issues’. At the time, I didn’t quite realise how much, almost five years on, we would all still be talking about it. Continue reading

Neuroscience and ethics goes global

Hugh Whittall photo HS low res

Hugh Whittall, Director


It is almost a year now since we published our report on novel neurotechnologies. Maybe it is because we keep an extra eye out for these things, but it seems to me that barely a day has gone by in this year without us hearing in the media of one story or another that involves peoples’ brains. So far this month, for example, we’ve already seen reports of a new study into how we might restore memories, another into why we lose them in the first place and a new UK advertising campaign promoting dementia friends, to name but a few. Continue reading

Technologies that enhance performance: playing (fair) games with sport?

Kate high res

Kate Harvey, Senior Research Officer


Later this summer, Glasgow will become the focal point for elite sport, as the Commonwealth Games roll into town for ten days. Athletes from all over the Commonwealth will converge to compete to achieve the athletic ideal of being “faster, higher, stronger”. Continue reading

Involving children in research: “What we think about what adults think”


This guest post was written by Natasha Wilcock, Rosie Bradford and Elis Richardson who participated in a workshop held by the Council at Varndean College, Brighton

What it was like to take part in this project, why we were there and what the researchers can learn from us. Continue reading

Scientific research culture: winners and losers in the laboratory rat race

Ottoline Leyser_thumbnail

Ottoline Leyser, Deputy Chair of Council and Professor of Plant Development and Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge

I have just reread The Double Helix, James Watson’s story of the discovery of the structure of DNA. What struck me most about it is the strong theme of raw and naked ambition running through it. Of course Watson is excited about the biological implications of the double helical DNA structure, and also by its elegance as a solution to a longstanding conundrum. But my overriding impression is that his main motivation was to win the race, to be the first and to beat the opposition. It would be foolish to deny that this is an important motivation for many people, driving them to do all kinds of things Continue reading

Bringing down the knowledge deficit

pete_web Dr Peter Mills, Assistant Director


In this week’s budget the Chancellor reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to reducing the deficit. Deficit reduction is the Coalition Government’s one paramount policy objective and the definitive register for their political rhetoric. I’m now beginning to wonder whether we have unwittingly found ourselves in a deficit reduction paradigm, where the response to all political questions is ‘reduce the deficit’. (Like the ‘law of the instrument’, also known as ‘Marslow’s hammer’: ‘if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail’.

Continue reading

Likes schools, colleges, and universities: will travel

Kate high res

Kate Harvey, Research Officer


Southend, Southbank, Surrey

So begins a travelogue of a heroic attempt on my part to visit every place in England that begins with the letter ‘S’.

More success was realised in my visits to three different places of education in each of these locations in the course of one week. My mission: to talk with three groups of young people about our 2011 report Human bodies: donation for medicine and research.

Continue reading