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The University of Southampton
Southampton Law School

Guiding national policy on the regulation of health ethics

Members of the Southampton Law School’s centre for Health Ethics and Law (HEAL) have made a significant contribution to improving the way in which ethical issues in health, such as assisted suicide and organ donation, are addressed in the UK and further afield.

Their specialist research and expertise has informed several Department of Health consultations and policy documents, as well as the strategies of key regulatory organisations. Their recommendations have influenced professional guidelines for clinicians and lawyers, defining and underpinning good practice to protect and benefit patients and service users. Increased understanding of ethical issues in health among the wider public has been promoted through high-profile media coverage.

Research challenge

Major legal cases and ethical issues in health policy that can set important precedents attract widespread interest from clinical professionals, managers and members of the public alike. Such topics include assisted dying, organ donation, public health, donor conception, surrogacy, elective ventilation and many more.

HEAL was established at the Law School in 2005 by Professor Jonathan Montgomery and Dr Caroline Jones as an interdisciplinary research network to explore the nature of law, its processes of production and impact on society through examining specific examples in health care and ethics. They were later joined by Professor Hazel Biggs, Dr John Coggon, Dr Remigius Nwabueze, Dr David Gurnham, and most recently by Dr A. M. Viens and Dr Natasha Hammond-Browning.

HEAL draws together more than 70 members from academia and local health care services to discuss issues at seminars and workshops, and to co-ordinate responses to public consultations.


The underlying principles behind the formation of HEAL were outlined in Professor Montgomery’s textbook Health Care Law , which for the first time examined how the law in England and Wales governed the full spectrum of health care, not merely medical ethics.

It contended that sociological and political factors need to be considered alongside ethical arguments, arguing that health care law is an area in which analysis of the institutional context and governance structures is as important as substantive bioethical questions.

This work was described by the Journal of Medical Ethics as ‘some of the most important and interesting legal analysis of medical law as a discipline’.

Our solution

Members of HEAL are known for their experience and track record in research.

Professor Montgomery’s work in bioethics resulted in appointments to chair the Human Genetics Commission, Nuffield Council on Bioethics and Health Research Authority. He has also held board level roles in NHS organisations.

Professor Biggs drew on her research to work with the General Medical Council on its policy on treatment and care towards the end of life, the most significant UK guidance on this area.

Dr Jones' empirical research on donor conception and its implications for family law led to her being invited to give evidence to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Parties on Donor Conception and Mitochondrial DNA disorders.

Dr Coggon’s work led to his serving as a consultant in the development of European-wide professional guidance issued by the European Society of Cardiology.

HEAL’s responses to public consultations are often quoted in the subsequent reports. In one example, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics cited HEAL’s contribution in its Consultation Report on Human Bodies: donation for medicine and research , noting ‘the demand for female egg donation is potentially limitless’.

The research centre hosted Robert Francis QC within a month of the publication of his high-profile report on the serious NHS failures in Mid-Staffordshire. A public discussion chaired by Professor Montgomery and held in conjunction with the law firm Hickman Rose and the Law School’s Centre for Law, Ethics and Globalisation attracted hundreds of academics, students, NHS managers and people from the wider health community.

Our impact

Well known among professionals in the fields of health policy, law and ethics, HEAL members enthusiastically promote rigorous and informed public debate. The centre’s blog and twitter feed cover current issues, often drawing on each individual’s research. Academics are open to media enquiries and have given interviews to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Radio Five Live, Sky and BBC News as well as local television and radio.

In other events, Professor Biggs took part in a public debate on euthanasia at the Brighton Dome, Professor Montgomery gave a public lecture at Portsmouth Cathedral on how faith groups could respond to the changing architecture of governance in bioethics and Dr Coggon gave a public lecture at McGill University, Canada, on public health ethics.

Internal news stories

The NHS in crisis? Legal aspects of the Mid-Staffs inquiry into needless deaths - 7 April 2013

External news stories

Professor Biggs is a regular contributor to radio news broadcasts, BBC and commercial national and local radio stations, and Sky Radio News, and is also a regular participant in radio phone-in discussions of topical issues in medical law and medical ethics.

She has given television interviews on aspects of medical law and medical ethics, for example see the news stories on Baby MB, drugs trials, a kidney offered for sale on eBay, and the Clifford Ayling Report.

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