Bioethics Blogs

Reflections from a Nuffield Bioethics Parliamentary Fellow

   Guest post by Stephen Barrie


In September 2015 I began a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) fellowship, funded by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.  I was faced with the 3-month task of researching, interviewing experts, summarising and condensing ‘Global Health Inequalities’ into four sides (plus references) for a general parliamentary audience.  It involved research across a wide range of fields, including the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals, global healthcare, impact evaluation, international agreements, treaties and policymaking. This was a fascinating, if daunting task.

POSTnotes are researched, scoped and refined through close collaboration with staff at POST, and interviews with leading figures are a key part of the process. In this case interviewees included the The Department for International Development (DFID) Chief Scientific Officer, researchers at the World Bank, Chatham House, various NGO’s and UCL’s Centre for Health Equity. The aim of a POSTnote is to be independent, balanced and accessible, and the range of interviewees one has access to, all of whom are invited to peer-review the note, certainly encourages this.

POSTnotes are an interesting format: They are widely regarded as authoritative and influential, and rumour has it that members of both Houses can be seen brandishing them during debates. They are, however, quite a different exercise from philosophy, my own discipline. Due to their brevity, they necessarily leave some important ideas unchallenged; for example, when writing about the severity of global health inequality, the WHO believe 400 million people lack access to essential health services. However, if we are going to treat that figure as meaningful we need to ask: What counts as essential?; What counts as lack of access?; And how are figures extrapolated to include hard-to-measure populations?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.