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The role of Irish Bioethics: (re)building trust and reasonable discourse in medicine, science and technology

Read the report from the Royal Irish Academy symposium held on 15 April 2021 and watch the video.

About the report

This report captures the key themes and insights arising from the three exciting panel discussions, and concludes with the case for increased, well-resourced, and diverse conversations on Irish bioethics into the future. The Report underscores the central motivation of the Symposium in highlighting the need for a sustained and trustworthy bioethics forum in order to properly discuss the highly significant bioethical issues facing the Irish and international contexts now and into the future.

About the symposium

On 15th April 2021, the RIA Life and Medical Sciences Committee organised the one-day symposium on ‘The role of Irish Bioethics: (re)building trust and reasonable discourse in medicine, science and technology’. The symposium brought together leading Irish and international experts from diverse backgrounds to discuss ethical issues arising from public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunities and challenges of new genomic technologies, and issues of trust in science and medicine, as exemplified by vaccine hesitancy and issues related to genomics. The main conclusions of the discussions re-enforced the central motivation for the event that there is a need for a sustainable framework in Ireland for deliberating on bioethical responses and that fosters public trust.

Over the past year the challenges of the pandemic have precipitated major adaptation and innovation in public health responses, rapid scientific developments and an increased focus on scientific advice to government and public health communication. The relationships between science and society have undergone a transformation. Against this backdrop the event was a timely opportunity for public bioethical discourse in these fast-evolving areas and reflection on possible frameworks for deliberating on bioethical responses in Ireland.

Panel 1

Ethics and public health from infectious diseases to pandemics: the case of Covid-19

Chair: Deirdre Madden, MRIA, Professor of Law at UCC and Deputy Chair of the HSE Board.


  • Ms Jacqui Browne, Disability equality activist and consultant
  • Professor Francesco Della Corte, Director of Centre of Research and education in Emergency and Disaster Medicine, Università del Piemonte Orientale
  • Professor Siobhan O’Sullivan, Chief Bioethics Officer, Department of Health
  • Dr Gabriel Scally, President of the Epidemiology and Public Health section, Royal Society of Medicine


  • Dr Louise Campbell (NUIG),Lecturer in Medical Ethics, NUI Galway
  • Professor Mary Horgan, Chair of the National Research Ethics Committee and President of the RCPI

Panel 2

New genomic opportunities and challenges in Ireland

Chair: Dr Derick Mitchell, Chief Executive of The Irish Platform for Patient Organisations, Science and Industry


  • Orla Hardiman, MRIA, Professor of Neurology and Head of the Academic Unit of Neurology, TCD and Consultant Neurologist at the National Neuroscience Centre of Ireland at Beaumont Hospital
  • Dr Heidi Howard, Senior Researcher at the Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics, Lund University
  • Dr Sarah McLoughlin, Research Scientist at the School of Biology and Environmental Science, UCD
  • Professor Cathal Seoighe, Professor of Bioinformatics, NUI Galway, and Scientific Director of the SFI Centre for Research Training in Genomics Data Science


  • Professor Owen Smith, Professor of Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine, UCD, and Chief Academic Lead, UCD Children’s Hospital Group
  • Ms Lora Ruth Wogu, Chief Operations Officer, European Sickle Cell Federation and CEO/Patient Representative, Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Ireland

Panel 3

Healthcare ethics, vaccines and public trust

Chair: Bert Rima, MRIA, Professor of Molecular Biology, QUB


  • Maria Baghramian, MRIA Professor of American Philosophy at UCD and member of the ALLEA Working Group on Trust and Expertise
  • Professor Sam McConkey, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine, RCSI
  • Kingston Mills, MRIA ,Professor of Experimental Immunology, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TCD and Head of the Centre for the Study of Immunology at Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute
  • Dr Dónal O’Mathúna, Associate Professor at the College of Nursing at Ohio State University and Founding Director Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Ethics


  • Dr Simon Mills, S.C., Barrister at Law, Irish Bar Council
  • Dr Nick Flynn, G.P., Senior partner at My Cork GP