Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Howard League Commission on Sex in Prisons

In 2012, News on June 28, 2012 at 9:20 am

HEAL member Roger Ingham is to be a member of an independent Commission on Sex in Prison launched by the Howard League for Penal Reform 

The Commission  will focus on three broad themes:

  • consensual sex in prisons
  • coercive sex in prisons
  • healthy sexual development among young people in prison.

It will undertake the first ever review of sex inside prison where it is unlawful to have sex because prison cells are deemed to be public places.  There is currently little reliable evidence available on both consensual and coercive sexual activity in prisons. It is not known to what extent men and women who identify as heterosexual may have sex with other prisoners while in prison. The Commission will also consider coercive sex which could involve rape, harassment, intimidation, assault or bribery.

The purpose of the Commission is to understand the nature and the scale of the issues and problems, making a series of recommendations with a view to making prisons safer. It will also examine how the situation in England and Wales differs from other international contexts, looking for best practice.

The Commission on Sex in Prison will undertake primary research, conduct visits and hear evidence from experts. It is expected to publish briefings on interim findings and produce a final report at the end of the two year investigation

The Genetic Family in Question: Part II

In 2012, Genetics on June 18, 2012 at 8:17 am

This is the promised follow up to an earlier post  on the fascinating Interdisciplinary Dialogue event on ‘The genetic family in question’, held last month at the Morgan Centre, Manchester Uni. The morning session was devoted to two papers on ‘Being related: Blood, genes and gendered relationalities’; with Dr Janet Fink (Open University) speaking on ‘“Her husband will not come home until the little one is adopted”: marriage, adultery and the unsettling presence of the illegitimate child in post-war family lives’, and Dr Gill Haddow (University of Edinburgh) with ‘”We only did it because he asked us”: Gendered accounts of family participation in a population genetic data collection‘.

Janet’s talk was a fascinating foray into (now historical) practices around adoption following adulterous unions &  post-war family life, drawing on rich data from relevant charity archives (eg Moral Welfare Association, Salvation Army, Jewish Board of Guardians) as to the working policies in place at that time as to who ought to be helped (ie whose children could be placed for adoption) and who should not be assisted (depending on marital status, whether or not this was the first baby put up for adoption etc).

Gill’s talk provided some fascinating insights into her qualitative study with some of the participants of Generation Scotland – examining the recruitment strategies re encouraging familial participation in the study (in contrast with, eg UK Biobank, Generation Scotland recruits families for testing in order to explore inherited factors passed on within families). Gill explored gender differences in the reported accounts of the family members responsible for recruiting others (eg trends in who they tended to recruit), strategies of recruitment and reasons for participation (eg reciprocity, a means of a family member having a health ‘mini-MOT’ without realising); and also reflected on the limitations re recruitment in light of the realities of family life ~ eg lack of close kinship ties, falling out ~ which clearly impacts on which family members are asked, and which will participate.

Their abstracts and slides, together with those in the session on mtDNA, are now available here.

Jonathan Montgomery appointed to chair Health Research Authority

In 2012, News on June 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm

The Secretary of State for Health has appointed HEAL member Professor Jonathan Montgomery to chair the Health Research Authority, describing him as ‘a leading expert in healthcare law, genetics and bioethics, and in addition he has an in-depth knowledge of the NHS gained from working on two NHS Trusts, a Primary Care Trust and a Strategic Health Authority. His depth of knowledge and breadth of experience will be vital in helping the Health Research Authority to safeguard the interests of patients whilst streamlining health research regulations.’

Jonathan says “I feel privileged to be appointed to chair the Health Research Authority. My first public service role was on a local research ethics committee and I know how important they are to safeguard the interests of participants. We can be proud of our country’s contribution to health research. Even so, some of our NHS approval processes delay high quality projects, especially those involving a number of different centres. We will continue to work to ensure that it is easy to carry out ethical research so that we make our contribution to ensuring that the highest levels of human knowledge and skill can be brought to bear to save lives and improve health as the NHS Constitution promises.”

The appointment was noted in a House of Lords debate on the Health Research Authority (Amendment) Regulations 2012 and will be followed shortly by the appointment of a chief executive and non executive directors.

Jonathan will withdraw from his local NHS roles once handover arrangements have been agreed  and so will maintain his current work at the University of Southampton and his chairmanship of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.


Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ Report on Mitochondrial donation: a brief precis

In 2012, Genetics, Reproduction on June 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Today sees publication of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ Report on mitochondrial donation, entitled ‘Novel techniques for the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disorders: an ethical review’, available here. An executive summary is also provided. As a very brief precis, taken from the executive summary, the NCOB Working Party has concluded that

  • Due to the health and social benefits to individuals and families of living free from mitochondrial disorders, and where potential parents express a preference to have genetically-related children, on balance we believe that if these novel techniques are adequately proven to be acceptably safe and effective as treatments, it would be ethical for families to use them, if they wish to do so and have been offered an appropriate level of information and support


  • Given the above and subject to the appropriate oversight, we believe that as a research objective it is ethical to gather further information about pronuclear transfer and maternal spindle transfer in order that they can be considered for treatment use.

The Working Party was also clear that use of mitochondrial donation ‘does not indicate, either biologically or legally, any notion of the child having either a ‘third parent‘, or ‘second mother‘; nor should mitochondrial donors have the same status as gamete donors (ie not to be mandatorily identifiable); and that long-term follow-ups of children born following (future) use of such techniques should be committed to by families, and supported by the creation of a centrally-funded register of these procedures, available to researchers.


Final Report from Human Genetics Commission

In 2012, Genetics on June 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

The Human Genetics Commission has published its final report, report summarising its work and achievements since its creation in 1999.

In his introduction to the report, HEAL member Jonathan  Montgomery, who chaired the Commission from 2009-2012, notes that the Commission’s work has led to policy and legislative changes, and the principles that have underpinned its reports have established a framework for responding to the possibilities that our enhanced scientific knowledge is creating.

‘Just as significant has been the approach the HGC has pioneered of open and transparent deliberation. It has combined rigorous thinking with listening carefully to people’s views, facilitating public debate, and using different media for the exploration of matters within its remit. Its success has been built on the high quality of its Members, the advice of its Consultative Panel, and the many contributions received from those who have engaged with its consultations and other work. It has also been blessed with an excellent Secretariat, without which it would have floundered.’

The report summarises the work and achievements of the HGC over the twelve years of its existence. The first chair Baroness Helena Kennedy writes ‘The creation of the HGC in 1999 was a courageous move, and a concrete indication by the Government that it hoped to encourage a debate about how we as a society should deal with important aspects of human genetics. Many of these aspects were of a profound philosophical nature, taking us to the heart of our idea of ourselves as humans, while other aspects were more practical.’

Professor Sir John Sulston, Acting Chair of the Commission 2008-9, drew attention to the conclusion of  the independent review of the HGC undertaken in 2008 that the HGC consistently ‘punched above its weight in terms of influencing public policy’, and commented that ‘there is no doubt that the HGC represented exceptional value for money. It demonstrated that it could respond quickly to changing agendas and specific requests for advice from Ministers, providing careful evaluation of emerging technology.

This latter role will now be taken up by the new Emerging Science and Bioethics Advisory Committee (ESBAC) under the chairmanship of Sir Alisdair Breckenridge.