The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is made up of 15 members and 12 executive staff.

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.

The members are supported by the executive team who conduct research, attend and organise meetings and events, disseminate work and follow-up the Council’s recommendations.

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.

Selecting topics for Council work

We choose to carry out work on topics where a response from the Council is anticipated to be timely, distinctive and helpful in terms of informing policy and public discussion.

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 be all of those things e.g. we hold a workshop, then develop into a briefing note and then go onto an in-depth inquiry.

In-depth inquiries or projects usually take 18-24 months to complete and result in a detailed report with policy recommendations.

For a topic to be selected for an in-depth project, it should meet the following criteria:

Does the topic come within the broad sphere of research in the medical or biological sciences, align with the Council’s strategic plan, and fit within a balanced portfolio of work?

  1. Is the topic ‘new’ or are there any new reasons for looking at it?
  2. Is the topic timely?
  3. Does it raise significant ethical questions?
  4. Does it have significant policy relevance and/or will it anticipate or respond to public concern?
  5. Can the Council make a distinctive contribution?

Once topics are chosen by the Council, they are then passed along to the Governing Board to make sure they fall within the Council’s terms of reference.

Would you like to suggest a topic for the Council to explore?

If it meets the five requirements above, email your suggestion(s) to bioethics@nuffieldbioethics.org.

Working groups

For each in-depth inquiry that we undertake, 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, theology, philosophy, industry). Working groups vary in size depending on the project. You can find the information about each in-depth inquiries’ working group through their report page. Find out more about our in-depth inquiries.

Collecting evidence

Gathering evidence is a major part of all of our projects. We thoroughly research each topic and consider a wide range of views. We collect evidence through a number of activities, including:

  • Open consultations
  • Fact-finding meetings or workshops on specific topics
  • Surveys to gather the views of particular groups of people
  • Activities to engage with people who do not have a prior interest in the topic
  • Commissioned background papers, literature reviews or reports

The number of activities that we carry out varies depending on the project. You can find out more about our evidence gathering activities for each project on their respective webpages (see Publications). Keep an eye on our website, social media and newsletter for opportunities to input into our current in-depth inquiries. You can also get in touch with us anytime on bioethics@nuffieldbioethics.org.

Our approach to ethics

We don’t have a standard ethical approach or guidelines for our working groups to follow. Different reports have adopted different ethical principles and frameworks. These frameworks and principles are developed for each project by the working group in consultation with Council members.

Publishing a report

All of our publications are reviewed by an external panel towards the end of drafting. Once a publication has been drafted and peer reviewed, it goes to the members of the Nuffield Council to be approved. Once a report is approved, it becomes a report of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Our reports aim to make policy recommendations. These can be directed to the UK Government, international governments and/or relevant organisations.

Maximising influence

Following the publication of a report, we initiate a programme of follow-up activities to maximise its influence, encourage the uptake of its recommendations and engage with policy-makers.

We do this in a number of ways, for example:

  • Responding to media requests
  • Speaking at events, conferences or public engagement activities
  • Organising roundtable discussions or workshops
  • Producing policy briefings
  • Attending meetings or participating in relevant advisory groups
  • Responding to relevant consultations and inquiries

You can see news stories, blogs and policy documents for each project in their section on the website.

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