Workshop: Ethical issues in infectious disease control

The Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele announce a Wellcome Trust funded workshop to be held on Thursday the 22nd of April 2010 from 10.00 to 17.30 in The Moser Centre at Keele University.

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.

Speakers:

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 t.walker@peak.keele.ac.uk

Information about getting to Keele can be found here.

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