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Press Silent on Shut Down of UK Government’s Ethics Committee

Press Silent on Shut Down of UK Government’s Ethics Committee


This article was coauthored with Ben Kinglsey

Picture a catastrophic oil spill environmental disaster. Imagine now that official minutes of meetings record that the Chief Executive Officer had received internal reports from the oil company’s own safety committee warning of safety risks, but had not shared those reports with the board. Imagine the CEO had then told the safety committee to stop writing reports and instead only to answer questions about safety when asked.

Imagine then that as the oil company embarked on what it knew to be a risky new drilling venture, the CEO gave all of those safety experts a 3-month sabbatical and, when they returned to work, asked them to focus their attention on health and safety in the catering facilities at the company’s HQ, before quietly making them all redundant a few months later. And imagine finally that a public inquiry into that environmental disaster later failed to ask a single question about the role of that safety committee.

One might think that a story of public interest and worthy of front page news coverage. In the UK, a country that likes to champion its proud tradition of a free and courageous press, it would be almost inconceivable to think that such a story would become known to all major news outlets but not be reported.

At the outset of the pandemic, a pre-existing group of approximately 20 experts selected as leaders in their fields of medicine, ethics, law, social science and religion was asked to advise UK Ministers and senior officials on the complex moral and ethical aspects to decisions that would need to be taken during the pandemic. The UK Health Department was to convene weekly meetings of the group, known as the Moral and Ethical Advisory Group, or MEAG. 

The three years of MEAG’s official existence coincided with a complex pandemic response which included lockdowns, mass school closures, mass population testing, the Covid vaccine rollout and related vaccine passports, and the vaccination of children. Each of these policies involved weighty ethical considerations, so one might have expected this group of expert ethicists to play a central role during that period; and for it to have been vocal, and instrumental in setting ethical guardrails for legally and ethically robust policy decisions.

In the course of researching our new book, The Accountability Deficit, we scoured all of the official records of the meetings of MEAG. We were stunned by what those records reveal. As explained in detail in that book, after an initial period of engagement with policy-makers the group was first sidelined, then suppressed, diverted, and ultimately shut down.

Crucially this happened after the group had begun to raise what seem to have been increasingly persistent, serious and inconvenient challenges to key UK Government policy plans, most notably in relation to Covid passes, a vaccination requirement for care home workers and – arguably the most ethically controversial decision of the pandemic – the mass Covid vaccination of children, which had involved the UK’s Chief Medical Officer overriding the Government’s own vaccine advisory board which had declined to recommend mass rollout for healthy under-16s.

In each case the official public records show that members of the group had expressed serious reservations. In addition the official summaries of MEAG meetings record that after having raised concerns in relation to Covid passes, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, reportedly “counselled [MEAG] against producing documentation that offered recommendations, given the political aspect of decision making.” In other words, it appears that Professor Whitty directed MEAG to stop putting its recommendations in writing.

In the Summer of 2021, MEAG flagged that it wished to give advice on any proposal for the mass Covid vaccination of children, and some of its members provided the UK Health Department with a paper expressing serious concerns on the matter. We understand the paper referenced that Covid vaccines were invasive, irreversible, and may have long-term side effects yet to be identified and that it challenged the purpose of vaccination of children by questioning the known benefits and harms for individuals and calling for urgent consideration of the issues.

Incredibly, the Health Department then cancelled – on the day – the meeting at which those issues were to be discussed. As a result the vaccination of children was never formally discussed with the UK’s ethics committee. Thereafter MEAG was effectively given a 3-month sabbatical during which time the controversial decision to vaccinate children aged 12 to 15 was pressed through by the CMOs of the four nations via an unorthodox overriding of the JCVI’s decision not to recommend it for mass rollout.

MEAG was reconvened by the Health Department in September 2021 – after the controversial decision to vaccinate children in the UK had been taken. It met on just three further occasions over the remaining four months of that year and was instructed to discuss topics wholly unrelated to the pandemic, such as virginity testing and the use of AI in medical imaging. MEAG was then never again convened as a group.

As parents who had been deeply concerned about the ethical and moral legitimacy of many of the UK Government’s pandemic policies, including the unorthodox and semi-coercive rollout of the Covid vaccine to children, and as experienced lawyers with expertise in both public and private sector governance processes and best practices, we recognised immediately the implications of these findings. While the evidence available to us does not reveal what was in the minds of the individuals involved, it appears to present the impression of a deliberate circumnavigation of inconvenient ethical advice. 

Having uncovered this story, we wrote up a detailed fully-referenced briefing paper and spoke to former members of MEAG to test our understanding. We shared that briefing with almost all of our national newspapers. Of the three which agreed it should be reported, two wrote it up fully and one informed us it would run as a front-page story. In each case, however, the story was never published, and each time without a cogent explanation. 

A press release summary of the story as documented in our book has since been sent to all major UK newspapers. So far, none have covered it (although broadcaster GB News has shown moral leadership in allowing a discussion of the story on air).

A veteran UK media industry insider has told us they believe the reason our story is not being reported here is because media organisations know that they would be punished by advertising agencies for publishing stories which undermine confidence in the Government’s Covid vaccination strategy. If accurate, this is deeply concerning.

We have all long been aware of the reluctance of mainstream news outlets to question any aspect of the Covid vaccination programme. It should be a matter of gravest concern for us all, though, if that reluctance extends beyond opinion and comment pieces, to include the reporting of a verifiable public-source news item concerning the fundamental ethical basis for a pharmaceutical intervention impacting millions. And doubly so when it implicates — as in this case — our children.

In paraphrase of Camus, a society that acts without reference to ethics is barbaric.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Molly Kingsley

    Molly Kingsley is executive founder at parent advocacy group, UsForThem, and author of The Children’s Inquiry. She is a former lawyer.

    View all posts

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