Conferences archive > 2009 > SPEAKERS & ABSTRACTS

John Harris

John Harris was educated at the University of Kent and at Balliol College, Oxford and is married and has a twenty-year-old son.   On March 30th 2004 John Harris was appointed as the joint Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Medical Ethics, the leading journal in medical and applied ethics. John Harris was elected a Fellow of the United Kingdom Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2001, the first philosopher to have been elected to Fellowship of this new National Academy, which was established to serve “the medical sciences in the same way as the Royal Society serves the natural sciences (and) the British Academy serves the humanities”.  He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in 2006. He was one of the Founder Directors of the International Association of Bioethics and is a founder member of the Board of the Journal Bioethics  and a member of the Editorial Board of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics and many other journals.  He frequently appears on radio and television both in the United Kingdom and overseas to discuss Biomedical Ethics,  Medical Jurisprudence and related issues.  He has acted as Ethical Consultant to national and international bodies and corporations including the European Parliament, The World Health Organisation, The European Commission, The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), The United Kingdom Department of Health, The Health Council of the Netherlands, The Research Council of Norway, The Welsh Office Of The United Kingdom, The British Fluoridation Society, Granada Television and currently advises Virgin Health Bank and GlaxoSmithkline.  He is the founder and a General Editor of a major series of books for Oxford University Press entitled Issues in Biomedical Ethics.    John Harris has served on many advisory bodies, he has been a member of the United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission since its foundation in 1999, and is a member of The Ethics Committee of the British Medical Association and a member of  The Committee on Ethical Aspects of Pandemic Influenza. He was formerly a member of the Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing and was a member of  The Working Group of the Academy of Medical Science, The Medical Research Council, The Royal Society and The Wellcome Trust on the use of non-human primates in research 2006 and  of the Working Group of the Academy of Medical Sciences on Interspecies Embryos 2007.     In 1986 John Harris jointly founded The Centre for Social Ethics and Policy of the University of Manchester.  CSEP has now established itself as one of the leading centres of biomedical ethics and law in Europe with major funding from the European Commission and participation in a number of projects throughout the European Union.  CSEP initiated the innovative taught Master's Degree programme in Health Care Ethics which admitted its first students in 1987.  It was one of the first and is one of the most successful and comprehensively interdisciplinary of such programmes in Europe, attracting around forty students annually and recruiting internationally.  CSEP pioneered the Intercalated BSC in Health care Ethics and Law, which was the first of such courses to open in the United Kingdom.  In 1996 the new Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics was launched by the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool with the support of the North West Region Health Authority.  John Harris was one of its architects and is one of the founder directors.  IMLAB was designated a “Marie Curie Training Site” by the European Commission in 2000, confirming its international reputation for the excellence of it's research and teaching.   In October 2007 The University of Manchester announced the establishment of a major new Institute, The Institute For Science, Ethics and Innovation.  John Harris is Director of this new Institute which is  Chaired by Sir John Sulston FRS, (Nobel Laureate 2002).   In 1994 John Harris was elected a member of the Romanian Academy of Medical Sciences and was awarded the Medal of the University of Helsinki in 1995.  He was a member of the United Kingdom Government Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing from its inception in 1996 until its closure in 1999.  In the same period he chaired a major working party on “Values and Attitudes on Ageing” for the internationally known charity Age Concern as part of their new initiative “The Millennium Papers”.   John Harris has directed six major projects for the European Commission.  Two of these projects, both under the general title: "AIDS: Ethics, Justice and European Policy" involved 34 groups from 14 countries. These projects were funded at 448,700ECU (approximately £378,000).  From April 1996 to September 1999 the European Commission (DGXII) supported project  entitled Communicable Diseases, Lifestyles and Personal Responsibility: Ethics&Policy was funded at 500K ECU (then £416,600).  A major project for the European Commission (Directorate General Research) entitled “EUROSTEM”  investigated and monitored ethics and policy issues surrounding the progress of human stem cell research.  This award of  € 747000.00  funds the project for three years from 2001.  In February 2004 a new project “EURECA” began under the European Commission Directorate General for Research (FP6).  This project is funded at €700,000.00 and  analyses the nature and ethical parameters of scientific research.   John Harris is the author or editor of nineteen books and over two hundred and fifty  papers. He has published in most of the leading philosophical journals in his field including The Journal of Medical Ethics, Bioethics, The Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, The Hastings Centre Report and Philosophy&Public Affairs.  He has also published in many of the leading science journals including Nature, Nature Reviews Genetics, Nature Reviews Cancer,  Science, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Annals of the New York Academy of Science and The British Medical Journal.   The Impact of scholarly work  is difficult to measure and more difficult to justify. It is fair to say, however, that in certain key areas of contemporary bioethics Harris's work is either a point of departure or a key milestone in the literature. In an address to the Australian Academy of Science in 2005 Julian Savulescu (Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics Oxford University) said: “I want to begin with a recent argument by John Harris ”¦ who is probably one of the top three bioethicists in the world.” ( Two more “informal” indicators are perhaps that on 1st September 2006 The Independent included John Harris in “The Good List”, purportedly a list of “the fifty men and women who make our world a better place” In it's citation The Independent noted  “he is a key player in the shaping of the moral debates around human fertility and bio-ethics”. On the 6th September 2008 John Harris featured in The Times “Lifestyle 50 ”“ The top fifty people who influence the way we eat, exercise and think about ourselves”. The Times citation noted “His book Enhancing Evolution is hugely influential”. While not a measure of research excellence it is perhaps some indication of the impact of his work that it has led both The Times and  The Independent  to place John Harris in the top 50 most influential national figures.  Harris has also appeared (as himself) as a minor character in novels by authors as diverse as Alexander McCall Smith (The Careful Use Of Compliments, Leslie Brown, 2007) and Dean Koontz (One Door Away from Heaven,  Headline, London 2001 ), and is one of Nick Baker's Groovy Old Men. (Nick Baker Groovy Old Men Icon Books Ltd. London 2008). Recently, perhaps the most famous figure in contemporary philosophy, the Editor of the influential Review of Applied Ethics, Isabel Dalhousie (in a rare appraisal of a living philosopher and taking  her cue from a Chapter in The Value of Life,) characterised John Harris as “a kind man and a very subtle philosopher”.   John Harris has throughout his career defended broadly libertarian - consequentialist approaches to issues in bioethics.  This has made him a leading defender of the rights of the individual to access medical technology and to benefit from medical services.  He has defended the individual's entitlement to these things regardless of age, life expectancy, level of disability, quality of life or genetic pre-disposition to illness.  He has been and remains a leading critic of paternalistic or restrictive approaches to regulation or legislation of access to medical services or technology.  

Bioethics and the Future of Science.

Science expects, and is expected to produce, benefits, and many believe that science ought to produce benefits, that those benefits ought to be made broadly and justly accessible, and that part of the purpose of the Law including the law concerning Intellectual Property Rights (patents and copyright)  is  to  facilitate  this  process.  While these are not unreasonable assumptions per se, the normative claims underlying them require some moral explanation.

What is the purpose – or rather, what are the purposes – of science; how are these purposes fulfilled through the process of innovation; What is the role of bioethics in this process and what is or should be the role of the Law and governments in science and innovation?

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