Air pollution and the ethics of wearing facemasks

Associate Professor Fiona McDonald

Air pollution is a topical issue in this country and in many places around the world, and disasters involving severe air pollution episodes create a pressing public health issue. Health agencies and governments may face pressure during such emergencies to provide solutions to help protect affected communities. One possible intervention to reduce exposure to air pollution during such crises is facemasks.

Associate Professor Fiona McDonald has led an international team of researchers who have developed a framework to support ethical decision-making on whether governments and health agencies should recommend or provide facemasks to the public.

The ethical framework consists of eight questions that could be raised during air pollution disasters. The researchers argue that clarity around decision-making by governments and health agencies, after using this framework, may help increase trust about the intervention and solidarity within and between populations affected by these disasters and the agencies who provide assistance during air pollution events.

You can read the research paper in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.

About Fiona McDonald

Fiona is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law and a Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research. Fiona’s research encompasses issues related to health governance and has four broad themes:

  • the governance of health and systems (with a focus on rural bioethics and disaster response);
  • the governance of health technologies;
  • the governance of health professionals; and
  • the governance of health organisations.

Fiona’s work has been published in a range of international journals and she has presented at a number of international conferences. You can read more about Fiona in her staff profile.

Implementing the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce Report

Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce Report

Peter Black, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, chairs the Anti-Cyberbullying Advisory Committee for the Queensland Government. In November, the Implementing the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce Report – November 2019 Progress Report was tabled in the Queensland Parliament.

The Report outlines that 19 of the 29 recommendations have been completed. The implementation of the 10 remaining recommendations are underway, with all recommendations on track for completion by the end of the implementation period (October 2020).

Ending Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy – Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2019

Additionally, at the request of the Health Minister, Peter worked with Queensland Health to convene the Ending Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy Roundtable.

Last week the Health Minister announced that the Queensland Government has accepted the Roundtable recommendations and introduced the Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. This Bill will amend the Public Health Act 2005 to prohibit conversion therapy.

We congratulate Peter on his contributions to these important outcomes.

Peter BlackAbout Peter Black

Peter is an Associate Dean and Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, teaching and researching in internet law, media law and Australian Constitutional law.

Peter was the Queensland Director for Australian Marriage Equality and the Equality Campaign. He is also President of the Queensland AIDS Council, on the management committee of the LGBTI Legal Service, and is the LGBT representative on the Inclusive Brisbane Board.

You can learn more about Peter and his research and publications in his staff profile.

The underestimation of non-Indigenous suicide in Australia

Professor Belinda Carpentre

Professor Belinda Carpenter

The underestimation of suicide is common in most countries, and suicide statistics of non-Indigenous Australians are underestimated by 15 to 50 per cent.

Professor Belinda Carpenter, in a study conducted with Professor Gordon Tait from the Faculty of Education, interviewed 32 coroners in metropolitan and regional areas of Australia, with the aim of investigating the mechanisms leading to this underestimation.

Their research found that coroners:

  • felt confined to a binary finding of suicide/not suicide, and
  • were reluctant to find suicide to spare grief and/or stigma for the family.

You can find out more about their findings in the QUT News article.

About Belinda Carpenter

Belinda is the Associate Dean, Research in the QUT Faculty of Law. In 2012, Belinda because the inaugural Director of the QUT Crime and Justice Research Centre and was the Assistant Editor of the Crime, Justice and Social Democracy journal. Her two areas of research expertise are sex crimes and death investigation.

You can learn more about Belinda and her research and publications in her staff profile.

Dr Andrew McGee on the therapy and enhancement distinction in regulating germline genome editing

Dr Andrew McGee, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, has delivered a thought provoking new paper on the importance of the therapy v enhancement distinction in regulation germline genome editing. This paper has now been published in the leading bioethics journal.

Dr Andrew McGee

Dr Andrew McGee

In a first major study, the UK’s Royal Society found that 76% of people in the UK are in favour of therapeutic germline genomic editing to correct genetic diseases in human embryos, but found there was little appetite for germline genomic editing for non-therapeutic purposes. Assuming the UK (and other governments) acted on these findings, can lawmakers and policymakers coherently regulate the use of biomedical innovations by permitting their use for therapeutic purposes but prohibiting their use for enhancement purposes?

In his paper, Andrew examines the very common claim that the therapy v enhancement distinction does little meaningful work in helping us think through the ethical issues. This claim has significant implications for lawmakers and policymakers who may wish to regulate genomic editing techniques to reflect the findings of this important study.

You can read Andrew’s paper, Using the therapy and enhancement distinction in law and policy, in the bioethics journal.

About Andrew McGee

Andrew is an Associate Professor in the School of Law and is an active member of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research. He has published articles in leading international medical law and ethics journals on palliative care, withholding and withdrawing life-prolonging measures and euthanasia, organ donation, and the ethics of abortion.

You can learn more about Andrew and his research and publications in his staff profile.

Professor Ben White secures ARC Future Fellowship

Professor Ben White, from QUT’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR), is one of four QUT researchers named as Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellows.

Professor Ben White

ARC Future Fellow Professor Ben White

Ben will receive $932,498 to investigate enhancing end-of-life care through a new and holistic regulatory framework. Current regulations are complex and fragmented and can cause distress to patients, families and health professionals.

The project’s aim is to help provide better palliative care, more patient involvement in decisions, reduced patient-doctor conflict and a more efficient health system.

From extensive research, Professor White and ACHLR colleague Professor Lindy Willmott developed and launched the End of Life Law for Clinicians training program. This is a free program to help medical professionals better understand this changing area of law and deal with situations when they encounter them.

We congratulate Ben and wish him continued success as an ARC Future Fellow.

About Ben White

Ben was a foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research for six years (2013-2018). He has published extensively in the area of health law, with a particular focus on end of life decision-making.

Ben’s research has had significant impact leading to changes in law, policy and practice. His work has been adopted by parliaments, courts and tribunals, and law reform commissions and has also influenced State and national end-of-life policy and prompted changes to clinical education in universities, hospitals and health departments.

You can learn more about Ben and his research and publications in his staff profile.

Australian Centre for Health Law Research

The Australian Centre for Health Law Research’s new website is now live. The website showcases ACHLR’s research strength across four research streams led by co-directors Associate Professor Fiona McDonald  and Associate Professor Tina Cockburn:

End of Life, which explores the legal, ethical and policy issues of death and dying. This stream is led by Professor Ben White and Professor Lindy Willmott , former co-directors of ACHLR. The End of Life stream maintains the comprehensive End of Life Law in Australia website.

Health, Society and Regulation, led by Dr Shih-Ning Then. This stream investigates the social, regulatory, and ethical challenges associated with the regulation of health care.

Ageing and Aged Care, which examines the pressing legal, health, social and policy issues that arise from population ageing, led by Dr Kelly Purser  and Associate Professor Tina Cockburn.

Technology, Innovation and Health, led by Professor Belinda Bennett . This stream investigates the social, legal and regulatory implications of technology and innovation in health care. ACHLR researchers are active in the Queensland Genomics Health Alliance’s Ethics, Legal and Social Implications Workstream , collaborating with colleagues at UQ, Queensland Health, and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

ACHLR members continue to engage in current topics of law reform, including a response to the COAG Health Council Regulation of Australia’s Health Professions Consultation Paper  regarding mandatory reporting to National Boards of professional negligence settlements and judgements and charges or convictions of scheduled medicines offences. Members also made a response to the Australian Human Rights Commission Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper.

See what our ACHLR researchers have published in e-prints.

Law Council Report cites submission from Australian Centre for Health Law Research members

The Law Council of Australia’s Justice Project: Final Report has been released. The Justice Project aimed to tackle impediments to access to justice for those experiencing significant economic and other disadvantage.

The report cites the submission made by Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR) and QUT academics Kelly Purser, Bridget Lewis, Tina Cockburn and Fiona McDonald. Citing Purser et al’s submission, the Report identifies older persons, especially older women, as a ‘hidden’ group experiencing significant disadvantage, where knowledge gaps require targeted research.

The Report also makes reference to Purser et al’s recommendation to develop national capacity guidelines to establish a nationally consistent, best-practice approach to assessing legal capacity.

Read the final report.

Read the submission from ACHLR.

Dr Kelly Purser

Associate Professor Fiona McDonald

Dr Bridget Lewis

Associate Professor Tina Cockburn


Genetic Discrimination in Australia: A Timely Reappraisal

Professor Margaret Otlowski joined the Queensland Genomics Health Alliance and the Australian Centre for Health Law Research to deliver a public lecture on the risk of genetic discrimination in life insurance policies.

(L-R) Professor Belinda Bennett, QUT, Mr David Bunker, QGHA, Professor Margaret Otlowski, University of Tasmania

Professor Otlowski is a Professor of Law and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Law and Genetics at the University of Tasmania. She was the Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Tasmania from 2010 to 2017 and was appointed as the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Culture and Wellbeing) in August 2017.

Professor Belinda Bennett, Professor of Health Law and New Technologies at the QUT Faculty of Law, welcomed guests to the lecture alongside Mr David Bunker, Executive Director of the Queensland Genomics Health Alliance (QGHA). David spoke briefly about QGHA’s mission, objectives and the research programs it supports.

The lecture, ‘Genetic Discrimination in Australia: A Timely Reappraisal’ is part of a program of work funded by QGHA in which leading researchers at QUTQIMR Berghofer Medical Research InstituteUniversity of Queensland, and other institutions are working on the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of genomics.

Professor Margaret Otlowski presenting ‘Genetic Discrimination in Australia: A Timely Reappraisal’

In her lecture Professor Otlowski reviewed the recent Commonwealth Inquiry into the life insurance industry which recommended the introduction of a moratorium on the use of genetic information for underwriting in life insurance. She discussed evidence that the fear of genetic discrimination is inhibiting the uptake of genetic testing in clinical and research settings. Professor Otlowski argued in favour of implementing the inquiry’s recommendations in order to help reassure patients, their families, clinicians and researchers that genetic testing will not have a negative impact on future applications for life insurance.

‘Professor Otlowski’s lecture highlights the importance of considering the ethical and legal dimensions of genomic medicine,’ said Professor Bennett, QUT Faculty of Law.

For further information about the QGHA, visit their website.