Friday, March 19, 2010

Ethical Issues in Infectious Disease Control Workshop 22nd of April – Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University.

The Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele like to announce a Wellcome Trust funded workshop to be held at Keele University on the 22nd of April focusing on the ethical issues raised by infectious disease control.


The outbreak of a new infectious disease, or a new variant of an old one, creates a new public health problem, as we have seen with both H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) and MRSA. Consideration must be given to what steps can be taken to stop, or at least slow, the spread of the disease. In addition to this scientific question, a number of ethical questions need to be addressed: What steps, if any, should be taken in an attempt to stop or slow the spread of the disease? What are the factors that need to be taken into account if we are to answer this question? What is the relevant balance between prevention and treatment? Where resources are scarce how ought they to be distributed? In an emergency situation, can traditional ethical concerns be ignored or overridden? Given the speed with which infectious diseases can spread there is often considerable time pressure, as we have seen in the case of H1N1, to quickly identify and implement an appropriate policy. This pressure can mean that there is little opportunity to deal adequately with these areas of ethical concern at the time.

Whilst uncertainties about how widely and quickly a new disease will spread mean that some of these questions are particularly difficult in the case of both new diseases and new variants of old ones, the questions themselves are not new. Very similar ethical issues are also raised in the context of treating infectious diseases that are better understood. In many cases, they have their roots in issues that are common to a wide range of such diseases. While these have been investigated and debated in some detail in relation to particular diseases, such as tuberculosis, the common themes that unite them (and the factors that affect how they play out) have not been much investigated by medical ethicists. As a result the lessons learnt in assessing the ethical acceptability of policies for dealing with one disease are not always transferred effectively to similar policies when these are suggested for dealing with other diseases. When a new disease, or new variant of an old one, appears this means that there is no readily available framework for considering the ethical questions raised by policies to deal with it, creating in turn a delay in responding to those questions. By bringing together philosophers, public health practitioners, ethicists and lawyers, this workshop will both further understanding of the ethical issues raised by particular policies in dealing with infectious disease, and provide the beginnings of such a framework for thinking about new conditions as they arise.


Professor Soren Holm, School of Law, Manchester University

Dr Heather Draper, Centre for Biomedical Ethics, University of Birmingham

Dr Sarah Damery, Department of Primary Care Clinical Sciences, University of Birmingham

Dr Alena Buyx, Assistant Director. Nuffield Council for Bioethics

Dr Michael Millar, Consultant Microbiologist, Department of Pathology & Microbiology, Barts & The London NHS Trust, Royal London Hospital

Dr Stephen John, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University

Dr Angus Dawson, Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University, Editor of Public Health Ethics

Dr John Coggon, School of Law, Manchester University.

Dr Tom Walker, Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University


Participation in the workshop is free of charge thanks to the funding of the Wellcome Trust – however places are limited so please apply promptly. If you would like to reserve a place please email Dr Tom Walker at

The workshop will run from 10.00 to 17.30 on Thursday 22nd April 2010, and will be held in The Moser Centre at Keele University.

Information about getting to Keele can be found at:

The Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele:

Keele’s Centre for Professional Ethics (also known as PEAK – Professional Ethics at Keele) is amongst the largest and most successful providers of postgraduate ethics courses in Europe, with a portfolio of five distinctive MA / PgDip programmes as well as the UK’s first Professional Doctorate in Medical Ethics

In addition to this workshop we are holding a training day on ethical issues in infectious disease control for professionals working in the field of public health and other relevant areas on the 10th of June – for further details see here:

Further details of the Centre can be found here:


Thursday, August 20, 2009


Sometime ago I recommended Foldershare as part of this series. The reason I recommended this was that it made keeping the document folders on two computers in sync over the net pretty simple, which made my life as an academic much easier.

Since that time Microsoft have effectively withdrawn that product and replaced it with one which at least for me seems to crash on a regular basis. And while Foldershare was handy it lacks two important features.

The first is that foldershare required both computers to be on to make any transfers, so it only worked if you had your computer at home and at work on at the same time, not entirely environmentally friendly!

The second is that foldershare copied the whole changed file rather than just the changes, so with large files this could take a long time.

I've now switched to a program called Dropbox

Dropbox stores a copy of your documents in the "cloud" so it doesn't require both computers to be on, and it updates file incrementally rather than in entire file blocks.

To install the program go here: Dropbox

And download it. Once you have installed it, make a new folder in your Dropbox and copy any files you want to keep in sync (you get 2 GB's free which should be enough for any ones documents) into that folder. Then install Dropbox onto your other computers and voila, you have copies of the latest version of your documents wherever you go.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Call for Abstracts - Brain Matters: New Directions in Neuroethics

BRAIN Matters: New Directions in Neuroethics

September 24 - 26, 2009
Lord Nelson Hotel
Halifax • Nova Scotia • Canada

This conference will bring together new and established researchers from around the world with a complementary range of expertise in ethics, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, medicine, history, social studies, law and policy, to critically examine a wide range of issues in neuroethics.The Conference Abstract Committee invites proposals for oral presentations, panel presentations, and posters that reflect the diversity of philosophies, disciplines, and methodologies relating to new directions in the field of neuroethics.

The Brain Matters conference will bring together new and established researchers from around the world with a complementary range of expertise in ethics, philosophy of mind, medicine, science, history, social studies, law and policy, to critically examine a wide range of issues in neuroethics. The conference presents a valuable opportunity to strengthen current research relationships between health and ethics researchers, and to foster new collaborations.

Trainee Award Abstract Competition - Up to 15 monetary awards will be given to trainees whose abstracts for an Oral Presentation or Poster Presentation have been accepted by the Abstracts Committee. Awards will be made on the basis of merit.

The deadline is March 1, 2009 and more details including the submission forms are available on the conference website:

Selected conference papers will be published in The American Journal of Bioethics, Neuroethics and the Journal of Ethics and Mental Health.

Please visit the conference website for more information:


Sunday, September 14, 2008

New Journal of Medical Ethics Blog

The Journal of Medical Ethics has decided to join the blogosphere with a new Journal of Medical Ethics Blog which can be found here: Journal of Medical Ethics Blog

Medical ethics is a fast moving field where there is always some new scientific or political development to analyse and discuss.

It is difficult for a journal like the Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) to keep up with these day to day developments in its print version, but we hope to do it in this blog.

In the future we will bring you a range of posts:

1. Our own musings on all things ethical
2. Quick reviews of the most important new books as they appear and some old books before they disappear
3. Reports from interesting and not so interesting conferences
4. News about what the JME is doing and about interesting ethics papers in the JME’s sister journals

The contributors will be myself, Iain Brassington from Manchester University and Soren Holm from Cardiff University. Hope to see you over there at some point, as well as over here.


Friday, July 18, 2008

A difficulty for proponents of genetic enhancement

Is that traits are multi-factorial and genes may have both positive and negative effects depending on the context and environment.

A good example of this is illustrated in this BBC article: Malaria gene 'increases HIV risk'

People of African descent have a variation of the "DARC" gene which may interfere with their ability to fight HIV in its early stages.

The Cell Host and Microbe study says the gene accounts for millions of extra HIV cases in sub-Saharan Africa.

The gene influences the levels of chemicals called chemokines, which play a role in the body's defences against viruses, and a variation is held by approximately 90% of Africans.

The origins of the variation are unclear, but it is thought to have evolved in response to widespread malaria outbreaks by offering protection against that disease.

In other words a trait that is protective in some circumstances is now, in a changed environment, very harmful. The implications of this are twofold, namely that the effects of "enhancement" are potentially harmful to other traits, and more importantly are difficult to predict.