The Virtues of National Ethics Committees

Hastings Center Report 47 (S1):24-27 (2017)
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Abstract

The United Kingdom has many bodies that play their part in carrying out the work of national ethics committees, but its nearest equivalent of a U.S. presidential bioethics commission is the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, established in 1991. The Council is charged with examining ethical questions raised by developments in biological and medical research, publishing reports, and making representations to appropriate bodies in order to respond to or anticipate public concern. It is a nongovernment organization with no defined or guaranteed channels of influence. It has no authority merely by virtue of the position it holds. Rather, it has established relational authority based on its reputation. Unlike the U.S. bioethics commission, it is not part of executive government, nor is it constituted to contribute to the legislative branch, as does the French Comité Consultatif National d'Ethique. Its nongovernmental status notwithstanding, the Nuffield Council's work affects the U.K. government and the British public, and the Council has achieved international recognition for its reports. I was the chairperson from 2012 to 2017 and draw on my experience in this piece to consider three key audiences: governments, publics, and the international community.

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