The Nuffield Council on Bioethics and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) are working together to gain a clearer understanding of the bioethics landscape in the UK. We are looking at how the ethical implications of biological and medical research are considered and the people and organisations involved.

Individuals, groups, and organisations in the UK are frequently called upon to consider the ethical implications of research. We have identified a need to:

  • better understand how bioethics questions are chosen and investigated
  • think about the lessons we can learn from the pandemic and 
  • explore what further support might be needed by people and organisations in the UK to help them consider the ethical implications of biological and medical research.

On 13 October, the Council and UKRI hosted a roundtable meeting which brought together representatives from around 30 organisations who play a role in the consideration of the ethical implications of health-related research. These included Government departments, regulatory bodies, research funding bodies, professional bodies, research groups, and charities. The meeting was chaired by Bobbie Farsides, Professor of Clinical and Biomedical Ethics, Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

Participants explored how bioethics thinking and expertise has informed research, policy making, and public debate in relation to COVID-19. They also considered the challenges and opportunities presented by embedding bioethics thinking in research and policy making in less challenging times, both in the UK and internationally.

The discussion was informed by the findings of a survey that gathered the views of a wider group of people to help us understand the landscape. The survey received 68 responses, primarily from researchers working in universities.

David Archard, Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said:

“We have a fantastically diverse bioethics ecosystem in the UK and this presents both challenges and opportunities. The roundtable highlighted a clear appetite for fora of this kind that allow UK organisations to come together and share best practice and resources. The Nuffield Council holds a unique position as the UK’s only independent bioethics advisory body and is ready to support the development of a more connected and co-ordinated community. This, we hope, is just the start of the conversation.”

Ottoline Leyser, CEO of UK Research & Innovation, said:

“UKRI plays an important role in harnessing expertise across all disciplines to catalyse a joined-up approach to the ethical implications of research. This helpful meeting showed that there is a big appetite to continue a conversation about how we build the partnerships necessary to deliver on this goal and we will be thinking about how we can most usefully follow up on the key themes and ideas raised.”

Bobbie Farsides, Professor of Clinical and Biomedical Ethics, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who chaired the roundtable, said:

“I was delighted to chair this important meeting bringing together so many individuals and organisations whose work contributes to the bioethics landscape in the UK and beyond. It was very heartening that people were so engaged with the challenging questions raised in the meeting, and I’m sure NCOB and UKRI will be very happy with their responses, reflections and recommendations.”

We will be sharing a summary of the responses to the survey in due course and considering what further activities or outputs would be helpful.