by John Coggon, Professor, Law School, University of Bristol
Since the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic, urgent attention has been given to expediting the approval and provision of treatments that are shown to prevent or limit the harms that people experience when they contract covid-19. Such treatments have both reduced the burden of disease and lessened rates of mortality. As with any treatments within a healthcare system, these come against considerations of rationing and prioritisation. Any treatment is a finite resource, and in some instances there may be insufficient supply to provide it to all people who might benefit clinically. How, in such instances, may the NHS best, and most fairly, allocate a limited resource?1
October 22nd 2019 marked a momentous day for those who have advocated for decades for liberalisation of Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. Following the implementation of Section 9 of the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act 2019, abortion up until 24 weeks gestation is decriminalised. In addition to this, an obligation has been placed on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that adequate regulations are in place by the end of March 2020 to ensure a human rights compliant framework for provision of abortion care.
This is the first of a two-part blog. Here we focus on what decriminalisation of abortion means for regulation of abortion in Northern Ireland. In the next part we will provide an account of what the content of human rights compliant abortion regulations should be. (more…)
NB: Abortion law in Northern Ireland is set to change on 22nd October 2019 if the suspended Northern Irish Assembly continues to not function on or after 21st October. This blog post contextualises and recognises the continued relevance of judicial review proceedings challenging the prohibition on abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality within a dynamic, multi-layered legal, political and social context.
On 3rd October 2019, the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland decided that Northern Irish abortion law was incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) insofar as it prohibited abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA). Justice Keegan decided to refrain from pronouncing on the remedy before hearing further submissions by the parties involved: she delayed the decision over whether to make a declaration of incompatibility (DOI) pending further submissions. This judicial review case follows a momentous year in activism, litigation, and legislative reform on abortion in Northern Ireland. The following provides context to the judgment, and a summary of the key reasoning employed. It then focuses on the DOI point which is yet to be concluded. A DOI should be made for two primary reasons. First, this remedy is warranted in the circumstances of the prohibition on abortion in cases of FFA. It can be distinguished from Nicklinson which introduced the idea that a DOI need not be made despite finding an incompatibility. Second, to proceed with refusing a DOI despite finding an incompatibility, and normalising Nicklinson, would have broader consequences for the human rights protection system in the UK. (more…)
In October 2017, we were proud and honoured to mark the launch of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) in the University of Bristol Law School. The Centre is founded on ambitious aims to push the boundaries of scholarship in health law: expand its methods and approaches; broaden its practical reach and points of focus; enhance its place in shaping education; and increase its engagement with, relevance to, and impacts on people, organisations, regulators, and policy-makers across society.
Our launch event allowed a showcase of the breadth of scholarly interest and inquiry within CHLS, as well as an opportunity to hear presentations from leading figures in health, law, and associated disciplines. We start from a basic premise that the value and significance of health requires understandings from ranging disciplinary perspectives, looking across social sectors and actors. We are interested in the roles served by law to protect and promote rights, achieve greater social justice, and to ensure that health and other fundamental values are secured fairly for all.
Since the time of our launch, CHLS has gone from strength to strength. Our community of students, academics and collaborators continues to grow. And we are delighted in March 2019 to publish a Special Issue of the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly (NILQ), which shows well the depth, range and reach of our ambitions. The Special Issue comprises contributions from 11 of CHLS’ members, as well as from colleagues from other universities. They represent legal scholarship that engages with ethical considerations and social justice, history, human rights, philosophy, politics and social sciences. They approach questions spanning from very individualised rights, to population- and systems-level analyses. (more…)
Public health is proudly an evidence-based field. But evidence without values cannot tell us what we should do.
We need public health ethics if we are to understand and explain, by reference to the classic definition of public health advanced by Winslow, what we, as a society, ought to do to assure the conditions in which people can enjoy good health and equitable prospects for health. Using the ‘organised efforts of society’ to protect and promote health and well-being is an ethical goal—indeed, as many of us would argue, it is an ethical imperative. And to be achieved, it requires law and policy. To evaluate when threats to health warrant a public health response, scientific analyses must be complemented by matters such as the balancing of values, an assessment of the relative merits of different possible interventions, an appreciation of the likely risks and impacts of intervening, and a sensitivity to political and cultural contexts and realities. (more…)
Scholars at the University of Bristol Law School have enjoyed a longstanding presence at the forefront of research in health law, and the undergraduate unit in Medical Law has become one of the most popular options on our degree programme. The School is home to leaders in fields that examine health law topics such as reproduction, mental health, public and global health, medical innovation, public procurement, and professional regulation. Our academics explore these issues from critical perspectives that include ethical, justice-based, historical, regulatory, economic, political and socio-legal approaches. As well as leading in research and education, we have close engagement with bodies responsible for advocacy, regulation, standard-setting, professional training, and providing ethical review and advice.
In reflection of this excellent concentration of expertise and experience, we have founded a new research Centre and are launching an exciting LLM Programme in Health, Law, and Society. Our aim with this innovative degree is to advance a course that looks at, but also reaches far beyond, questions concerning medicine and healthcare, to incorporate knowledge and understanding of how law and governance across all social and political sectors may impact health—for better or for worse. The breadth and depth of study on the course, reflecting directly our diverse range of teaching and research interests, is enhanced by the inclusion throughout the year of guest sessions led by scholars and specialists whose work and practice afford them unique insights and perspectives. (more…)