HEAL UoS

Bioethics as a Governance Practice

In 2015, Annual Lecture on May 15, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Jonathan Montgomery gave the inaugural lecture in the annual series of the Centre for Health Ethics and Law on 7 May 2015. Lecture organiser, Associate Professor A.M. Viens said, “We are extremely pleased to welcome Professor Montgomery back to Southampton to deliver the inaugural annual lecture for the Centre for Health, Ethics and Law. His contribution to the development of health care law, both academically and in his public service, is unrivalled in the UK. In recognition of these contributions, the annual lecture series will be named in his honour.”

Jonathan considered different ways of understanding bioethics; as a subject, a discipline, a field, an enterprise, and a governance practice. He suggested that the last was a neglected perspective that deserved greater consideration. He offered a brief history of bioethics governance in the UK, noting that it was a mixture of bodies charged with general oversight, bodies with responsibility for specific sectors, and ad hoc groups convened to look at single issues. He suggested that Bioethics Governance, envisaged by the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics (2005), had generally been understood as being developed in response either to fears that science was advancing faster than ethical reflection (as exemplified by the establishment of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in 1991), or to scandal (as demonstrated by the governance of health research through statements of principle, ethics committees, and research governance frameworks). He argued that it was also important to see Bioethics Governance as a response to pluralism (when society is not in agreement about bioethical issues but it is necessary to achieve some degree of closure, at least temporarily, to take regulatory decisions). However, if the idea of Bioethics Governance was to be distinguished from more general political decision-making, he suggested it was additionally necessary to see it as a response to claims of relativism (that there was no basis for distinguishing between views). Bioethics Governance denied that this should determine decisions, looking for some form of public reason or deliberative processes to provide legitimacy for regulatory decisions. A satisfactory account of Bioethics Governance would need to recognise the contingency of the circumstances in which questions arose, explain the legitimacy of the exercise of power that it involved, and show that regulatory responses were effective, efficient and proportionate. In conclusion, bioethics could properly be considered in each of the ways outlined, but characterising it as a governance practice brought issues that needed further examination into the spotlight.

His slides can be seen here:
Bioethics as a Governance Practice

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