Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

This week’s meeting!

In 2012, Human tissue, Meetings on January 24, 2012 at 8:26 am

News of our first 2012 event: Friday, 27 January, at 11am in the staff club, Highfield campus – Hazel, Jonathan and I will be meeting to discuss the Welsh Assembly’s White Paper on a proposed opt-out system for organ donation in Wales. English & Welsh versions of this document and further details about the consultation can be found http://wales.gov.uk/consultations/healthsocialcare/organ/?lang=en

The consultation contains 9 questions, broadly about operational issues of such a system (eg. factors to be taken into account in determining whether someone ‘lives in Wales’, safeguards for those lacking capacity, age restrictions and possible equality impact), and closes on 31 January 2012.

Anyone who would like to join us for this discussion is most welcome.

Bioethics is a crowded space

In 2012 on January 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm

There have been calls for a national bioethics commission in the UK for many years, including from Sir Ian Kennedy in his Reith Lectures, Unmasking Medicine in 1980. They have been resisted for just as long, mainly (e.g. as explored in Parliament in the debate on an amendment proposing such a commission in 2008) on the basis that there were already bodies working in this terrritory, including the Human Genetics Commission, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

In the light of the disbanding of the Human Genetics Commission at the end of March 2012 and the announced intention of the Government to dissolve the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority it will be interesting to see how organised bioethics develops. The announcement of two separate consultations on aspects of mitochondrial disease shows one of the problems of co-ordinating activity in the crowded space of the current system.

The Department of Health has identified the need for public consultation on the use of new techniques, which alter the mitochondrial DNA of an egg or embryo,  in assisted conception to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease. It has asked the Human  Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to undertake this consultation and  issued a call for evidence, to be submitted by 15 March 2012.  The core group to consider the issues, which includes HEAL member Anneke Lucassen, has been asked ‘to collate and summarise the current state of expert understanding on the safety and efficacy of methods to avoid mitochondrial disease through assisted conception.’ 

On the same day, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics also issued a call for evidence (by 24 February 2012) for its own work in the area. It has established a working group   ‘(a) to identify and examine ethical issues relevant to the clinical use of techniques of in vitro mitochondrial transfer, (b) to elaborate these issues with a view to stimulating and informing further discussion, deliberation and debate, and (c) to prepare a report on the above, to be delivered in Spring 2012.’

These concurrent enquiries into the area have different concerns and the fact that they call for evidence on the same day cannot be accidental. The HFEA’s interest is expressed to be primarily about safety in order to suppport its responsibility to make licensing decisions and the NCoB is concerned about broader ethical issues. However, it might be considered that the overlapping processes point to the value of more explicit co-ordination of actitivies. It is reminiscent of the oddity that we saw in the 199os when both the Department of Health and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics undertook work on Xenotransplantation.

Nuffield Council on Bioethics celebrates 20 years

In 2012, Human tissue on January 17, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Yesterday a number of us received copies of a Report reviewing and celebrating 20 years of events and activities since the establishment of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in 1991. The Report includes a foreward from the current Chair, Professor Albert Weale, who notes the increasing global life expectancy – since 1950 – from 46 years of age to 70 (80 in wealthier nations), and the bioethical questions provoked by increased well-being:  ‘In short, how can we lead lives, collectively as well as individually, that embody respect and justice given our growing understanding of health and life processes?’

Prof. Weale goes on to say:  ‘[T]he Council has sought to anticipate and not merely respond to public concerns, accepting that it will never have the last word but hoping sometimes to have the first. Its success has relied upon all those who have been on working parties, provided evidence and opinion in public consultations, worked for the Council secretariat or sat on the Council itself.‘ (emphasis added)

We are delighted to have been able to contribute to the public consultation that fed into one of its most recent reports, Human Bodies: donation for medicine and research – this was a revisitation of the issues around the use of human tissue/bodily materials in medicine and research, the subject of the Council’s second enquiry, which reported in 1995. HEAL, in its capacity as a consultation respondent, is cited on p88: ‘Whilst it might be right to try to meet ‘demand’ for renewable materials such as blood, the ‘demand’ for female egg donation in potentially limitless’. Further, both HEAL and the University of Southampton have strong links with the Council itself, as Professor Anneke Lucassen and Professor Hugh Perry are current Council members, and Dr Caroline Jones has recently provided evidence on legal and policy issues arising from mitochondrial DNA donation.

We wish the Nuffield Council on Bioethics a very successful future.

Thanks Emma!

In 2012, Welcome on January 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

In December’s edition of theVoice, the University of Southampton’s magazine for staff, Dr Emma Roe, from Human Geography described HEAL as ‘an inspiring group to be part of’. Thanks Emma, it is great to be working with you.

2011 was a busy year for HEAL and we hope that 2012 will be even more inspiring. The Law School held interviews for a number of new posts in December and we are delighted that amongst the appointees are some new colleagues with interests in health, ethics and law. We hope to be able to introduce them once the contractual formalities are concluded. In the meantime….