Conference: The proper place and visibility of value judgments in public health policy and practice.

Monday 23rd May, 11am-2pm

The UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator hosted a free, online conference to explore, examine, and explain how value judgments did, do, can, and should feature in public decision-making and policy. The full video recording of the event is online and can be viewed below. This event involved evaluation of how ethics has (not) featured in practice and planning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and contributed to understanding of how approaches in the future should be informed. The event focused on questions of:
  • Openness and transparency: how and why should the value judgments that direct decision-making be clear and accessible?
  • Substantive ethical considerations: what should feature in discussions of values, and value trade-offs, in policy, and why?
  • Mechanisms for assuring the place of ethics in policy and public decision-making: who can and should contribute, and how?

The event ran through a series of three, hour-long panels:

11am-12.00: Beyond ‘following the science’: value judgments and transparency in pandemic decision-making

  • Professor Martin McKee: Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; member and former acting chair of Independent SAGE
  • Dr Kamran Abbassi: Editor-in-Chief, The BMJ
  • Dr Mehrunisha Suleman: Director of Medical Ethics and Law Education, University of Oxford; Member, Nuffield Council on Bioethics; Senior Research Fellow, Health Foundation COVID-19 impact inquiry

12.00-1pm: The challenges of ‘real-time public ethics’: incorporating ethics expertise in public decision-making

  • Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery: Professor, University College, London; Co-chair, UK Moral and Ethical Advisory Group
  • Professor Michael Parker: Professor, University of Oxford; Participant, SAGE
  • Dr Heather Payne: Senior Medical Officer Welsh Government; Chair, COVID-19 Moral and Ethical Guidance for Wales Advisory Group

1pm-2pm: Anticipating, identifying, and responding to ethical controversy and uncertainty

  • Professor Ilina Singh: Professor, University of Oxford; Principal Investigator, UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator
  • Dr Anjana Ahuja: Science Columnist, Financial Times; freelance media contributor
  • Victoria Butler-Cole QC: Barrister, 39 Essex Chambers; Member, Nuffield Council on Bioethics; Council Member, JUSTICE
  • Dr Julian Sheather: Special Adviser in Ethics and Human Rights, British Medical Association; Ethics Adviser, Médecins Sans Frontièrs


Dr Kamran Abbassi

Kamran Abbasi is a doctor, journalist, editor and broadcaster. Following five years in hospital medicine, working in various medical specialties such as psychiatry and cardiology, he moved into senior editorial roles at the British Medical Journal from 1997 to 2005. Kamran has been acting editor and deputy editor of The BMJ, editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and JRSM Open, editor of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, and a consultant editor for PLOS Medicine. In January 2022 he became Editor in Chief of The BMJ. Kamran is an honorary senior lecturer in the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College, London. He is an experienced contributor on radio and television

Dr Anjana Ahuja

Anjana Ahuja is the Financial Times’ award-winning science columnist, and a freelance contributor to other media outlets including the New Statesman. She covers science, technology and global health for a worldwide audience, and is particularly interested in the social, political and ethical implications of developments in these areas. She was one of the first journalists, in early January 2020, to cover the emergence of a novel pneumonia in Wuhan. She subsequently co-authored a widely acclaimed book, Spike: The Virus versus The People, with Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar. It was named as The Times’ top science book of 2021. Anjana is a trustee of Sense About Science, a small charity which champions the use of evidence in policymaking and public life. She has a PhD in space physics from Imperial College.

Victoria Butler-Cole QC

Victoria Butler-Cole QC is a barrister at 39 Essex Chambers where she specialises in health and social care law. Her work ranges from judicial review of decisions by local and central Government, to the Court of Protection, to regulatory cases and inquests. She is a member of the council of JUSTICE and a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Professor Martin McKee

Martin McKee is Professor of European Public Health and Medical Director at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is also Research Director of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, Past President of the European Public Health Association, and President Elect of the British Medical Association. He trained in medicine and public health and has written extensively on health and health policy, with a particular focus on countries undergoing political and social transition. He is a member of Independent SAGE, a UK group of scientists who seek to communicate evidence on COVID to the public and civil society.

Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery

Sir Jonathan Montgomery FMedSci is Professor of Health Care Law at University College London, co-chair of the Moral and Ethical Advisory Group within the Department of Health and Social Care, Visiting Professor of Bioethics Governance at the University of Oxford and Chair of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Previous national chair roles include the Human Genetics Commission 2009-12, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics 2012-17, and Health Research Authority (HRA) 2012-19. He was one of the authors of guidance on Covid critical care triage produced by the Intensive Care Society.

Professor Michael Parker

Michael Parker is Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Ethox Centre at the University of Oxford. One of his main areas of research interest is in global health bioethics, with a particular emphasis on infectious disease ethics. From 2018 to 2020 he chaired a Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Group on the ethics of research in global health emergencies which published its report in January 2020 . During the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael has been a participant in the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), a member of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Ethics & Governance Working Group, and a member of the UK Department of Health and Social Care’s Moral and Ethics Advisory Group (MEAG).

Dr Heather Payne

Heather Payne is a paediatrician with extensive experience in child disability, fostering and adoption, and safeguarding. She was previously in academic teaching and research roles at Cardiff University, and was postgraduate Associate Dean for Equality and Diversity. She currently works as a Senior Professional Adviser in Welsh Government in health policy, quality and safety. She was co chair of the First Minister’s advisory group on Covid-19 health disparities and ethnicity, resulting in the development of the Race Equality Action plan. She is chair of the Covid-19 Moral and Ethical Advisory Group for Wales, and contributes to the UK Government MEAG as well as the ethics advisory group of the UK National Screening Committee. Heather is Vice Chair of the Standing Committee of the Church in Wales Governing Body.

Dr Julian Sheather

Dr Julian Sheather (PhD) is a writer and ethicist. He is special adviser in ethics and human rights to the British Medical Association, an ethics adviser to Médecins Sans Frontières and an independent consultant in humanitarian ethics. His interests lie in health and human rights, medical ethics in times of conflict, humanitarian ethics, and the ethics of public health. He writes widely on issues in ethics and health. He is the author of Is Medicine Still Good For us and a co-author of Medical Ethics Today, the BMA’s handbook on medical ethics and medical law, Assessment of Mental Capacity (with the Law Society) and is a regular contributor to the British Medical Journal and The Journal of Medical Ethics. He sits on the British Medical Journal’s ethics committee, and was a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ working group on ethical aspects of research in global health emergencies. He lectures widely both nationally and internationally on a range of topics in medical and humanitarian ethics.

Professor Ilina Singh

Ilina Singh is a Professor of Neuroscience & Society in the Department of Psychiatry and has been Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics & Humanities at the University of Oxford since 2017. Her research focuses on the social and ethical dimensions of research and innovation in biomedicine, neuroscience and psychiatry. In the Department she leads the Neuroscience, Ethics & Society Team, with projects in child and adolescent psychiatry; global mental health; mental health data ethics; digital mental health; precision psychiatry; and patient and public involvement and engagement (as PPI lead in the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre).

Dr Mehrunisha Suleman

Dr Mehrunisha Suleman is Director of Medical Ethics and Law Education at the University of Oxford. She recently led the Health Foundation’s COVID-19 Impact Inquiry which involved curating a diverse portfolio of work to assess the impact of the pandemic on health and health inequalities. Mehrunisha is a medically trained bioethicist and public health researcher, whose research experience spans healthcare systems analysis to empirical ethics evaluation. Her research interests intersect global health research ethics and clinical ethics particularly where religious and cultural views and values of patients, clinicians and researchers are pertinent. She has extensive outreach and engagement experience, include working with minority groups and diverse sectors across the UK and globally.

Session Chairs

Professor John Coggon

John Coggon is Professor of Law in the Centre for Health, Law, and Society at the University of Bristol. He is also a member of the University of Bristol’s Population Health Science Institute and Centre for Public Health, and an Honorary Member of the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH). He sits on the ethics committees of the British Medical Journal and FPH, and is a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. John’s research focuses on socio-legal questions in public and global health ethics and law and mental capacity law, examined in particular through methods of moral and political analysis.

Photo of John Coggon

Dr Beth Wangarĩ Kamunge

Dr Beth Wangarĩ Kamunge is a Senior Research Associate in the Centre for Health, Law, and Society at the University of Bristol Law School. She is a black-feminist socio-legal theorist with longstanding interests in critically exploring and addressing various forms of inequality. She is qualified as an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya (currently non-practicing). Prior to her PhD she worked in Advocacy and Research roles within the third sector in East Africa, on themes related to sexual and gender based violence within asylum-seeking and refugee contexts; and the Land Rights of women and Indigenous communities, particularly those facing Development Induced Displacement and Resettlement. Her PhD research at the University of Sheffield was initially envisioned as a ‘participatory’ project that invited black women’s embodied food stories, with a focus on considering how race, gender, class and other intersectional identities shape how we come to know what we know more generally.

Professor James Wilson

James Wilson is Professor of Philosophy at UCL, where he is also Co-Director of the Health Humanities Centre. He has been at UCL since 2008, with a secondment to the Royal Society as a Senior Policy Adviser in 2011–12. His research uses philosophy to help resolve practical problems, and uses practical problems to investigate gaps and weaknesses in existing philosophical theories. He has published widely on public health ethics and health policy, and on the ownership and governance of ideas and information. His book Philosophy for Public Health and Public Policy: Beyond the Neglectful State will be published later in 2021 by Oxford University Press. Among other advisory roles, he is a member of the National Data Guardian’s Panel and the Faculty of Public Health’s Ethics Committee, and was a member of the Ethics Advisory Group for the NHS Covid-19 App.

Photo of James Wilson