battle of ideas 2007 battle of ideas 2007

The Battle for Health


in association with the IoI Health Forum and sponsored by the Royal College of Nursing



Ethics on trial
Living longer - achievement or burden?
Catching them young

Battle for Health media partners   , Saturday Health section of The Times

Sunday 30 October 2005

11am - 12.30pm

Ethics on trial

Medical ethics is a burgeoning field that exerts great influence over both medical research and clinical practice today. Ethics committees, codes of practice and consent procedures have more and more impact on the working practices of researchers and clinicians with the expressed aim of protecting patients’ interests and securing greater patient involvement in decisions about their treatment.


However, some clinicians and researchers are concerned that, however well intended, these constraints on their professional judgements are hampering their ability to deliver the best medicine has to offer. With ever more detailed and complex consent procedures being required, will the pace of research and medical innovation be slowed? In the long term, will patients suffer from the very measures designed to protect them? Or does the recent Vioxx controversy indicate the need for even greater protections?


In clinical practice, what does the fact that more and more decisions are being referred to ethics committees, or even the law courts, tell us about the changing relationship between doctors and patients? Is such external intervention a necessary protection against arrogant clinicians? Or does it undermine the doctor’s professional autonomy? Is not a willingness to make professional judgements a vital component of the doctor’s role that we lose at our peril?

Dr Richard Ashcroft Head of Medical Ethics, Imperial College, London

Simon Crompton freelance health writer and medical editor of Body&Soul, the Saturday health section of The Times

Dr Stuart Derbyshire Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham
Tim Lewens lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
Chair: Tony Gilland Academy of Ideas


2 - 3.30pm

Living longer - boon or burden?

Life expectancy in the Western world has never been higher. On average, men aged 65 today can expect to see their 81st birthday and women their 84th. But rather than being seen as a cause for social celebration, society seems pre-occupied with worrying about the financial implications of ageing – from healthcare to pensions.


While the young are encouraged to avoid unhealthy habits to secure a little more time at the end of their lives, the elderly are being warned that some treatments are too expensive to be made available to them. Many worry that whilst we may be living longer, much of that time is likely to be spent in ill health. Is this perception accurate or are we being pessimistic about old age and the achievements of modern medicine?


In his lecture Ray Tallis, Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and author of Hippocratic Oaths: medicine and its discontents, will challenge the miserablism which he feels surrounds the debate about ageing today and will argue that medicine and society have the potential to deliver not just longer but healthier and fuller lives for individuals.


Following his lecture he will be joined in conversation by Phil Mullan, economist and author of The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population Is Not a Social Problem (IB Tauris, 2000), Professor Pat Thane, Leverhulme Professor of Contemporary British History and author of Old Age in English History: Past Experiences, Present Issues (Oxford University Press, 2000) and Tim Curry Policy Advisor, RCN


4 - 5.30pm

Catching them young

'Preventative health' - encouraging us to adopt more healthy lifestyles and modify our behaviour - is top of the government’s agenda. As well as informing us of the choices we should make about our own health, the government is increasingly concerned to ensure that we make the ‘right’ choices for our children too – from pregnancy and birth to children’s diet and teenage sexual health. The government’s Every Child Matters programme requires both education and health services to place a strong focus on early intervention to promote healthy lifestyles. According to Professor Al Aynsley-Green, the government-appointed Children's Commissioner, ‘much preventable adult ill health and disease has its roots during gestation, infancy and childhood’.


But whilst parents want the best for their children, should they simply accept what the government tells them? Are parents being provided with balanced advice and allowed to make a genuine choice or are they being pressurised into making particular choices through health campaigns that often seem to exaggerate risks and benefits, and prey on parental fears? How should health professionals relate to these new initiatives that require them to scrutinise parents in such detail? What impact will this more interventionist approach, requiring health professionals to identify children at risk of obesity ‘and other negative health outcomes’, have on the relationship of trust between parents and the medical profession?


Jane Clarke nutritionist, The Times

Mary Crowley chief executive of the Parenting Education & Support Forum

Brid Hehir nurse and lead for patient and public involvement at Camden Primary Care Trust
Chair: Ellie Lee lecturer in social policy at the University of Kent, author of Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health: Medicalizing Reproduction in the United States and Great Britain and coordinator of the Pro-Choice Forum





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