May 18, 2024

What does Brexit mean for bioethics?

Brexit may lead to significant changes in biomedical policy in the UK

It is tempting to provide an alarmist answer to this question. Yet it is wise to avoid the apocalyptic tone of recent media coverage and first to flag what is not going to change in UK biomedical ethics policy. 

As highlighted by a post on the Christian Medical Fellowship Blogs, the UK will not (or, at least, not yet) be leaving the Council of Europe (CoE) – this entity does not fall under the auspices of the EU. That the UK will remain in the CoE is significant, as this is the umbrella organisation for what is known as the Committee on Bioethics, an influential policy body that seeks to apply principles outlined in the Convention on Human Rights and Medicine to new issues in medical technology and research.

The European Court on Human Rights also falls within the purview of the CoE. Importantly, The ECHR has handed down significant decisions within the area of conscientious objection in healthcare. 

Yet some suggest the Brexit vote may effect disability rights legislation and regulations in the UK. EU directives about equal access and reasonable adjustment in the workplace have been described as a “double lock” on British legislation such as the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. Disability advocates fear that the Brexit may in the long run lead to a loss of “hard won rights” for disabled people.

There are also significant concerns about the effects of Brexit on UK public health policies that are underpinned by legislation from the European Parliament. Writing in the Journal of Public Health earlier this year, Martin McKee and Michael J. Galsworthy of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested that Brexit could negatively affect public health policy in areas ranging from environmental issues to anti-smoking policies and research ethics guidelines. 

What does Brexit mean for bioethics?
Xavier Symons
Creative commons
european union