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Conference Report: Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol

Below is a post-conference report by two recent Institutional Grant recipients, Rachel Gallagher & Charlotte Mills, University of Bristol, following their Bioethics Conference on 13 April 2016. 

Well worth a read as it focusses on a very interesting topic which is not often discussed.

Centre for Ethics in Medicine, School of Social and Community Medicine

University of Bristol

Bioethics conference 2016:  Gender, Relationships and Equality

Report for the Institute of Medical Ethics

The conference 'Gender, Relationships and Equality' was an exploration of how medical and social notions of gender affect our relationships. The topic covered a broad range of areas: intersex, fatherhood, prenatal testing, surrogacy and the future of medicine. The audience was mostly students, including bioethics students from the University of Bristol and University of Birmingham, and nursing students from the University of West England.

Dr Sorcha Ui Chonnachtaigh (Keele) presented the first talk on 'the parent-child relationship and decision-making regarding surgeries on intersex children.' This taught us to modernise our conception of gender, as we learnt that it is not a binary notion. This increased our awareness of related issues, and gave us insight into how to address such situations that may arise in our future careers with sensitivity.

Next, Dr Jonathan Ives (Bristol) gave a presentation on 'fathers and reproduction: rights, interests and relevance.' He discussed the different approaches taken by different European countries with regards to abortion and reproductive technologies, and highlighted some key issues about potential inequalities. This encouraged us to analyse the current healthcare approach to pregnancy with more consideration of the father.

Dr Sandi Dheensa (Southampton) continued with the theme of the role of the father, speaking on 'men's involvement in prenatal genetic/genomic testing.' This highlighted conflicts between a need to include fathers in prenatal healthcare, and protection of mothers in instances with potential domestic abuse. Interestingly, 30% of domestic violence starts during pregnancy.

Our final speaker was Dr Katherine Wade (King's College London) who discussed 'improving the surrogacy framework in the UK: a children's rights perspective.' This was especially interesting as it provided an alternative perspective on a topic that the majority of the audience had been studying throughout this year. Dr Wade highlighted how the current law on surrogacy is ineffective as it conflicts with the best interests of the potential children that are brought about in this way.

To finish we were joined by Professor Lois Bibbings (Bristol), for a panel discussion on why bioethics should be concerned about gender, chaired by Dr Zuzana Deans (University of Bristol). Discussion focused on feminist approaches to bioethics, and how these could shed light on issues around gender that may arise in our future careers as doctors and nurses. There was active participation from the audience, including group discussion, which raised some key issues about gendered pay structures and (in)equality of opportunities.

Overall, the discussions throughout the day displayed diverse opinions and disciplinary perspectives on a variety of issues regarding 'Gender, Relationships, and Equality.' The conference was thoroughly enjoyable, and beneficial to all. We would like to express our gratitude to the Institute of Medical Ethics for making this valuable learning opportunity possible.

Rachel Gallagher and Charlotte Mills

Student Representatives, Bristol BSc Bioethics programme