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Original Hypodermic Syringe of Dr. Alexander Wood. The first used in Great Britain. 
Image credit: History of Scottish medicine / by John D. Comrie. Wellcome Collection https://wellcomecollection.org/works/p3bwpd8b. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

We are living in a period in which questions about the ethical requirements for global health emergency preparedness are urgent and yet seemingly intractable. Any attempt to engage seriously with these questions must address enduring tensions between cosmopolitan and statist commitments in political philosophy on the one hand and collectivist and individualist approaches to bioethics on the other. Success in addressing global health problems depends crucially upon collective action both at the level of individual people and communities, and between countries – a good example of the latter would be the importance in pandemic preparedness of the rapid international sharing of biological samples and sensitive data about pathogens and drug resistance. This raises important political and ethical questions about the requirements for sustainable collaboration between countries in the face of reasonable concerns about equity, and security. It also presents important concerns about the protection of privacy and human rights.

This project will explore disciplinary connections and contrasts and engage with key current debates at the interface between ethics and history in the context of global health emergencies. COVID-19 and other recent epidemics have highlighted the urgent need for a rethinking of infectious diseases ethics and histories at global, national, community, and individual scales and of the relationships and interdependencies between them. The opportunities for cross-disciplinary scholarship here are exciting, offering a unique chance to reflect both on the ethics of history and the histories of ethics through the lens of global health. This provides an unprecedented opportunity for ethicists and historians at the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities to work together to rethink the relationship between ethics and history as disciplines and as forms of scholarship. At the heart of this project will be a collaboration with colleagues at the Wellcome Collection engaging with questions relating to the ethical aspects of historical and contemporary collections of objects and information, and to decolonisation in global health and bioethics.


Photo credit

History of Scottish medicine / by John D. Comrie. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Research Team

Michael Parker

Centre Director

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Mark Harrison

Centre Co-Director

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Patricia Kingori

Wellcome Senior Investigator

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Roderick Bailey

Departmental Lecturer

Roderick Bailey

Taline Garibian

Postdoctoral Researcher

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