View all news

New £1.5M study will investigate what the ‘best interests’ are of patients who lack mental capacity

Co-director of the CHLS, Dr Judy Laing

Co-director of the CHLS, Dr Sheelagh McGuinness

Press release issued: 9 February 2018

The University of Bristol has been awarded a major Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award for a cross-disciplinary project exploring the best interests of patients in medical ethics and law.

The five-year study is a collaboration between academics in the Centre for Health, Law and Society and the Centre for Ethics in Medicine and will be led by Professor Richard Huxtable. Working alongside Prof Huxtable will be Dr Judy Laing, co-director of the Centre for Health, Law and Society, Dr Sheelagh McGuinness, Dr Jon Ives and Dr Giles Birchley.

The project entitled ‘Balancing Best Interests in Healthcare, Ethics and Law (BABEL)’ will investigate how the “best interests” of patients who are unable to make decisions for themselves because they lack mental capacity or competence should be understood. The patients include children – as poignantly illustrated in the recent, widely-publicised legal case of Charlie Gard – and adults, including those with learning disabilities, dementia or prolonged disorders of consciousness.

Dr Laing says:

'Sheelagh and I are delighted to be collaborating on the BABEL project with our colleagues at the Centre for Ethics in Medicine (CEM). This exciting inter-disciplinary project combines our health law expertise at the Centre for Heath, Law & Society (CHLS), with CEM's expertise in healthcare ethics. BABEL will explore how the 'best interests' of patients who lack capacity to make decisions about their care and treatment should be interpreted and applied. The research is hugely important, as it has the potential to impact on the legal and ethical frameworks which regulate the lives of many patients, both young and old, who are deemed to lack capacity to make decisions about their medical treatment'. 

The project will begin later in 2018. The core research team will be joined by a broad multi-disciplinary team of researchers, patients and professionals who will contribute to the study. Further information will be available from Centre for Ethics in Medicine and the Centre for Health, Law and Society.

Professor Huxtable said “We are absolutely thrilled that the Wellcome Trust has chosen to support this important project. Best interests decisions are taken daily for thousands of patients and we hope, through our five years of work, to help support and inform everyone involved, from patients to carers to professionals”.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President, of the University of Bristol, added: “Bristol’s expertise in medical ethics and law makes it well placed to conduct this important cross-disciplinary project. We are grateful to the Wellcome Trust for this award that will ultimately help provide the much-needed clarity to those involved in making complex decisions around the best interests of patients.”

Further information

About Wellcome

Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate.

The study has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award, which promotes the development of new ideas and speeds the pace of discovery. The award funds teams of researchers, consisting of independent research groups, to work together on the most important scientific problems that can only be solved through collaborative efforts.


Edit this page