successful previous installments, the sixth annual ‘Great Medico-Legal Debate’
was held on 21 February 2019 at the University of Strathclyde. This was the
first time that Strathclyde hosted this annual event, which explores the
arguments on both sides of a current and exciting medical law and ethics topic.
debate topic concerned whether the best interests test regarding care of
children should be reformed. As demonstrated by the recent high-profile media
cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, there have been ongoing questions around
whether the best interests test is fit for purpose in an era of increasing
importance of patient and parental autonomy. Teams were divided into ‘Team for
reform’ and ‘Team against reform’ and a wide audience attended, both from
within and beyond the academy.
In a lively
debate, the two teams considered issues of issues of human rights, medical
ethics, and public policy arising over changes to the judicial test. Audience
members were asked to consider and vote on the issue, after a brief
introduction to the topic by the co-Director of the Mason Institute, Dr Agomoni
Ganguli-Mitra. After arguments took place, audience members were asked to
consider their stance and vote once more on whether the best interests test
should indeed be reformed, in light of the debate that took place. Ultimately,
after a close competition, the invited expert judge, Professor Alison Britton
of Glasgow Caledonian University, decided in favour of ‘Team again reform’.
Audience members’ voting also reflected this view that, while the application
of the best interests test remains vexed, it has the advantage of providing
what Professor Britton described as an ‘end point’. She praised the proposals
for reform that had been argued for including alternative methods for dispute
resolution between doctors and parents and models based on consensus building
rather than a ‘test’. However, as Professor Britton underlined, the need for
decisions to be made promptly and for such decisions to be final is
particularly pressing in the context of a gravely ill child. As such, it was
this consideration that ultimately swayed her finely balanced decision.
events, the ‘Great Medico-Legal Debate’ continues to deliver thoughtful and
in-depth coverage of pressing issues in law and medical ethics, in a creative
and stimulating format. Indeed, Professor Britton remarked upon the exceptional
skills of the debate teams, who not only explored the topic of medical futility
and the best interests test in detail, but also showcased their skills in legal
research and argumentation.
We would like
to say a huge thank you to everyone who made this year’s debate such a success,
including our expert Judge, Professor Britton; our host at Strathclyde, Dr Mary
Neal; the audience members who attended and participated so enthusiastically;
and, most of all, the members of the debate teams, who gave up their own time
to prepare for the debate and delivered such an excellent performance on the
day. We look forward to continuing the seventh installment of the debate in
2020, and further building our medical law and ethics collaboration with
universities across Scotland.