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


Thursday, April 15, 2021, 11:25 - 17:30




Free online event: booking essential

RIA Life and Medical Sciences Symposium on the need for a sustainable framework in Ireland for deliberating on bioethical responses.


With recent and ongoing developments in biotechnology and medicine, Irish engagement in bioethics should be prolific. The current COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the importance of ethical oversight, guidelines, and ongoing discussions. However, since the Irish Council for Bioethics (ICB) ceased to exist in 2010, Ireland has been one of the few European countries without a National Bioethics Council. While the National Advisory Committee on Bioethics (NACB) was formed in 2012, its scope, activities and autonomy is greatly reduced compared to the ICB, to the point that it has not met since September 2015. In a 2018 article in the Medical Independent, Irish bioethicists highlighted this ‘advisory vacuum’ and lack of bioethical debate in Ireland. Most recently, in the context of COVID-19, the temporary Pandemic Ethics Advisory Group (PEAG) had to be rapidly created in order to create and issue important ethics guidelines. The need for the quick mobilisation of PEAG further highlights the need for a more sustained bioethics structure in the Irish context, for this and for many other emerging ethical issues.

This event will bring together Irish bioethicists, academics, patient and industry representatives, policymakers and the public to address this bioethical ‘vacuum’ over three 90-minute panels.


11:25-11:30 Welcome from President of the Royal Irish Academy, Mary Canning, PRIA

Panel 1

11:30-13:00 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

13:00-14:00 Break for lunch

Panel 2

14.00-15.30 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

15:30-15:45 Tea/Coffee Break

Panel 3

15:45-17:15 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

17:15 Closing

Dr Oliver Feeney, Chair of symposium organising committee, Researcher at the Centre of Bioethical Research and Analysis, NUI Galway.

By reflecting on the questions of ‘what is ethical’ within these topics the panels can start to address the broader issue of ‘how do we discuss and manage such ethical disagreements’. A key objective will be to discuss ways to develop a sustainable framework in Ireland for deliberating bioethical responses to future developments (and crises) in health care, science, and technology. The event will bring together expertise from different fields in medicine, healthcare and ethics and hear from a diverse range of stakeholder perspectives. An all-island dimension is vital given the COVID-19 situation in particular, and public health responses to infectious diseases in general. Given recent international developments in biotechnology and regulation, and socio-political developments such as trust in science, this event will address these issues by looking to examples from the Europe and beyond. We also aim to engage the with the general public so the event and topics will be accessible to all.

Each panel will also hear from special guest contributors. Our special guests are:

  • Dr Louise Campbell (NUIG),
  • Dr Nick Flynn (G.P.)
  • Professor Mary Horgan (National Research Ethics Committee)
  • Dr Simon Mills, S.C. (Irish Bar Council)
  • Professor Owen Smith (UCD)
  • Ms Lora Ruth Wogu (Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Ireland)

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