After five 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.
This year’s 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.
After six 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.