Thank you for your interest in Council membership. The following is designed to give an overview of the Council, its structure, the role of Council members, the membership appointment process and project work. If you have any further questions, please explore our website, or contact Carol Perkins at cperkins@nuffieldbioethics.org.

General information about the Nuffield Council on Bioethics

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The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB) is an independent body that examines and reports on ethical issues in biology and medicine. We were established by the Nuffield Foundation in 1991, and since 1994 we have been funded jointly by the Foundation, Wellcome and the Medical Research Council (now part of UKRI – UK Research and Innovation).

The NCOB has achieved an international reputation for advising policy makers and stimulating debate in bioethics. Our terms of reference are:

  • To identify and define ethical questions raised by recent developments in biological and medical research that concern, or are likely to concern, the public interest;
  • To make arrangements for the independent examination of such questions with appropriate involvement of relevant stakeholders;
  • To inform and engage in policy and media debates about those ethical questions and provide informed comment on emerging issues related to or derived from the Council’s published or ongoing work; and
  • To make policy recommendations to Government or other relevant bodies and to disseminate its work through published reports, briefings and other appropriate outputs.

Structure of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics

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The NCOB consists of the Council itself; its Executive staff body; and a Governing Board.

  • The Council is the deliberative body. Its main responsibilities are to decide on the future work programme and strategic direction of the Council, scrutinise and ensure the quality of reports and other outputs, and make decisions on the membership and function of the organisation.
  • In addition, Council members normally become involved in the project work in a variety of ways, examples are being on a working group, participating in workshops, and advising on and reviewing Council publications such as briefing notes.
  • The Chair of Council is Professor David Archard, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast. There are usually around 15 members, with a variety of backgrounds, and a list of current Council members can be found here.
  • The Executive is a team of around 15 people that provide project management support and assists with drafting and researching the Council’s publications. Staff organise workshops, meetings, events, and represent the Council at professional and public meetings. The team also manage the financial, administrative, and external relations functions of the Council. A list of the Executive is here.
  • The Governing Board is appointed by the Council’s funders. It is responsible for reviewing and challenging the work of the Council, providing assurance that the Council is operating within its remit and is committing expenditure in line with the terms of the funding grant and the goals of the Strategic Plan. The Governing Board meets twice a year with the Council Chair and Director. A list of the Governing Board members is here.

Council membership

The role of Council members

As mentioned above, Council members form the deliberative body that drives the intellectual function of the NCOB. Their core responsibilities are to:

  • Decide questions of strategic direction and topic identification.
  • Ensure a thorough horizon scanning process.
  • Scrutinise and ensure the quality of reports and other outputs at key stages during projects so as to ultimately adopt the final outputs and reports.
  • Decide on the direction, function and membership of the organisation.
  • Provide support and advice to the Executive.

There are many other ways that Council members can be involved and other responsibilities will normally include:

  • Sitting on Council subgroups, for example the Horizon Scanning Advisory Group / Membership Committee.
  • Being a member of a project working group.
  • Being a member of a report subgroup that pays particular attention to a NCOB project.
  • Participating in activities such as workshops.
  • Advising on the content of publications such as briefing papers during the drafting process.
  • Representing the NCOB at external meetings or conferences.
  • Writing blogs.
  • Acting as a media spokesperson for the NCOB, if and where appropriate.

The initial term for membership is three years, with the possibility of renewal for one to three years. The renewal process looks at an individual’s contribution, capacity and appetite for continuation and considers how this meets the future needs of the Council.

The basic time commitment of Council membership are its four meetings a year in January, April, July and October, which are usually around 2.5 to 3 hours long and involve reading a substantial set of papers in preparation. As mentioned above, there are many other ways that Council members can be involved and as a result the time commitment for Council members is usually around one to two days a month. We recognise that individuals will have varying levels of time available, but it is hoped that every Council member will be able to play an active role in the Council’s work.

Being on a working group which develops an in-depth report would significantly add to the time commitment in terms of project work and meetings (roughly 10 times over an 18 month to two-year period). Working group membership is voluntary and will also depend on the topics chosen and an individual’s expertise.

Follow the links for a role description and Code of conduct, which outlines the standards of behaviour expected of Council members.

Members do not receive remuneration but are paid reasonable travel and other expenses.

How Council members are chosen

The Council has a Membership Committee, which recommends which disciplines should be advertised, monitors the make-up and diversity of the Council, shortlists, interviews and makes appointment recommendations. It has an independent Chair and has members from the Council and its Governing Board. Its current members are:

  • Sarah Guerra (Independent Chair) - Director of King's College London’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion
  • Dave Archard - Council Chair and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast
  • Frances Flinter - Council member and Emeritus Professor of Clinical Genetics at Guy’s & St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust
  • Elaine Gadd – Council member and former Consultant Psychiatrist, with extensive experience in national and international bioethics policy
  • Anne Kerr - Council member and Professor of Sociology and Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow
  • Brian Scott – member of the Governing Board and Chairperson at Meningitis Research Foundation

When vacancies arise, they are advertised in a variety of ways, including relevant media, newsletters, social media, through relevant organisations, networks, professional bodies and charities. Applications are considering and shortlisted by the Membership Committee, candidates are interviewed, and recommendations are then made to the Council who have the final decision.

Selection is based on the following criteria:

  • A demonstratable interest in bioethics – this could be a professional interest or an interest that comes from general engagement with bioethical issues.
  • A willingness to contribute to ethical debate in an open and constructive manner by contributing thoughts and ideas and by listening to and respecting the views of others from a wide range of disciplines and positions.
  • A willingness and ability to work with others in a multidisciplinary environment, where all contributions are valued. This includes working with the other members of the Council, the Executive and individuals who might attend Council events and can include academics, healthcare workers, individuals personally affected by issues, policy-makers and people from a variety of professions.
  • An understanding and commitment to the aims and values of the Council and to maintaining the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion in all of its activities.

We aim to maintain a wide range of expertise including members with backgrounds in science, medicine, social science, philosophy, law, policy and public affairs, media, communications and industry. We welcome and value diversity and are keen to encourage applications from all sections of the community including those from groups are that are currently under-represented on the Council, from non-academics, and from people at all stages in their career.

The Council process for selecting new members is set out in a policy and procedures note.

How we work

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Council members meet quarterly to discuss and contribute to in-depth inquiries, review recent advances in biological and medical research that raise ethical questions, and select topics to explore further.

Through our horizon scanning programme, we monitor bioscientific and medical developments that raise ethical questions and could have impacts on society. We aim to anticipate these developments at an early stage, so that we can consider them and make appropriate recommendations in a timely way.

As we come across particular topics that might warrant further investigation, we add these to our long list. From that list, we select and prioritise topics to investigate further, using our terms of reference as a guide. Once a topic is selected, we decide what kind of format the project will take – for example, this can be an in-depth inquiry, bioethics briefing note or workshop. It could also be all of those things, for example, we hold a workshop, then develop into a briefing note and then go onto an in-depth inquiry.

In-depth inquiries

For each in-depth inquiry, we convene a multi-disciplinary working group. We appoint a Chair and work with them to appoint working group members from a range of disciplines (for example, science, law, healthcare, philosophy, industry). Working groups vary in size depending on the project and usually take 18-24 months. At the end of an inquiry, we publish a report which includes recommendations for policy and practice. We generally run two in-depth inquiries at a time which are currently genome editing in farmed animals and the future of ageing.

We have published over 30 detailed reports on a range of topics many of which have been influential in informing policy, practice and public debate. Recent examples include research in global health emergencies; genome editing and human reproduction; cosmetic procedures; and non-invasive prenatal testing. Further information on previous topics is available here.

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Responsive activities

In addition to our in-depth inquiries, we aim to respond more rapidly and flexibly to developments and debates in medicine and bioscience. We do this through a number of activities, including:

  • Publishing briefing papers
  • Organising workshops, roundtable meetings and other events
  • Providing media interviews and comments, and briefings for journalists on bioethics topics
  • Writing opinion articles for the Council’s blog
  • Briefing parliamentarians ahead of parliamentary debates on bioethics topics
  • Contributing to parliamentary and government consultations
  • Contributing to ongoing policy discussions by taking part in meetings and giving presentations

Our bioethics briefing notes provide a concise summary of the key ethical and social issues raised by developments in biological and medical research. These are a relatively new format of publication for us, with our first briefing note published in 2018. Our bioethics briefing notes are much shorter than our reports and primarily aimed at policy-makers or those with an interest in the topic that would like a quick, but concise overview.

We have recently published briefing notes on patient access to experimental treatments; medical implants; meat alternatives; disagreements in the care of critically ill children; and egg freezing in the UK. We are currently working on a briefing note on vaccine provision and uptake.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have been working to provide support, information and advice to ensure that ethics is a key consideration in rapidly developing government and societal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the UK. We have done this by producing a number of resources including rapid policy briefings, webinars with COVID-19 themes, public statements and blogs.

Applying

If you are interested in applying, applications should be in the form of a statement of interest which outlines your interest in the Council and what you can contribute, a short curriculum vitae, and the names of two individuals we could approach for a comment as to your suitability for membership. Please send applications to link to the Nuffield Foundation recruitment site. The closing date for submissions is 5pm on Friday 7 May.

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