UCL News


Consultation on ethical dilemmas in public health

5 June 2006

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a four-month consultation to canvass the opinions of the general public, the medical community and academics on a range of ethical questions relating to public health policies.

Earlier this year, the Council established a working party - counting Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and Professor Anne Johnson of UCL Primary Care & Population Sciences among its members - to consider the difficulties of balancing personal choice and benefits to the community at large in public health decision-making. The consultation is designed to foster reasoned, overarching debate on the subject to complement the attention attracted by individual controversial cases, such as the decision taken by three primary care trusts in Suffolk last year to deny obese people hip and knee replacements.

The consultation consists of a questionnaire covering the control of infectious disease, obesity, smoking, alcohol and fluoridation of food and water. It also asks respondents to consider the definition of public health and the principles that should guide policy-making.

Professor Greenhalgh, who sees increasing numbers of obese children at her GP practice, is particularly interested in views on the government's proposed measures to tackle this problem.

"The government is now introducing a scheme whereby the overweight children in a primary school class will have a letter sent to their parents reminding them to feed them less and exercise them more. Some say these are nanny state measures, but if it makes the children grow up into healthier adults, is it justified? It's a very contemporary issue which doctors and policymakers must treat very seriously and sensitively."

The consultation is open to the public until September, and the working party plans to report findings this autumn.

To take part in the consultation, follow the link at the bottom of this item.