President's Update

Ghislaine Cleret de Langavant,
CBS President 

The President's Update provides an opportunity for the CBS Board to offer direct reports to the membership on the activities of the Society and to solicit input from the membership and Canadians at large. Feedback, suggestions, concerns or inquiries via email are appreciated.




President’s letter October, 2014

Dear CBS members,

"Looking Back, Looking Forward", the theme of our last annual conference held in Vancouver, marked the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Bioethics Society (CBS) annual conference. The meeting organizers sought to engage all participants in an open discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing bioethics today, trying to learn from the past to better construct a common vision for the future. As ambitious as this objective can appear, I believe that it was largely attained, as all who were fortunate enough to attend the meeting could attest. I wish to thank the members of the 2014 CBS conference planning committee, in particular its chairs, Lori d’Agincourt-Canning and Paddy Rodney, as well as the CBS conference planner, Verney conference Management Inc., for this resounding success.

I personally have been a member of the CBS for over 20 years and I have seen many very successful, stimulating CBS conferences, but I can’t recall any in which the CBS community reached such a level of agreement and was so united around the common objectives of increasing the visibility and relevance of the CBS. The presence of several founding members and the quality of the exchanges between young and old, experienced and newcomers to the field, certainly participated to the shared impression of “coming together”. It was very heartwarming to experience and very encouraging indeed.

The CBS does find itself in a crucial time of its existence; this point has been made many times before. Indeed, the continuously precarious financial situation of the CBS and questions on the usefulness of having a unified bioethics society when the field of bioethics is becoming more and more specialized, have been casting doubt on the relevance of maintaining annual conferences and the CBS itself.

The situation of the CBS has been changing however, for the better. Although our financial situation remains precarious, it has improved substantially from last year and the membership has increased by 30%. We need to ensure that these improvements are long lasting if we wish to maintain a strong, vibrant national bioethics society. Creative fundraising initiatives and ways to increase membership while ensuring its diversity will remain priorities of the CBS board.

Growth opportunities that were launched last year and which have the potential to increase the relevance of the CBS for its members and society as a whole, such as National Health Ethics week, conference strengthening (for example with the CBS abstract review committee), our increased on-line presence and the strengthening of collaborative relationships, will be continued and improved. It is important to realize that all these initiatives are framed by the mission statement of the CBS with its 6 priorities, developed in consultation with the membership in 2007 and which may be found on the CBS website. Newer initiatives such as the development of a searchable database and the development of a strategy to consult and represent the membership on core issues, as mandated by the membership at the annual general meeting , will also be initiated this year. This latter initiative is framed by the 5th priority of the CBS mission statement “Supporting public engagement and policy development around bioethics issues”.

Concerning these newer initiatives, the development of a searchable database will enable better networking among the membership on the basis of shared interests and identified expertise and will allow to respond to eventual media requests, conditional to prior consent.

The elaboration of a strategy to consult and represent the membership on core issues such as maintaining a public health care system in Canada and the importance of fair ethical processes was felt to be a priority by the membership at the last annual general meeting. This shared feeling of a need to come together as a Society and speak with a national voice across Canada does not implicate taking a side on specific ethical dilemmas where a multiplicity of diverse ethical stances coexist but rather making a stand on larger issues where the importance of ethics appears to be put into question. This is the case, for example, in the recent developments in relation to ethics leadership at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Indeed, CIHR’s response to the recommendations made by the Task Force on Ethics Reform at CIHR elicited much concern in the research ethics community as well as in the Canadian bioethics community at large.

Dr. Jane Aubin, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Research and Knowledge Translation at CIHR was invited to speak at a special session held at the Vancouver annual conference. This session was very well attended, demonstrating the importance this question has for the CBS membership. In her presentation, Dr Aubin invited the Canadian bioethics community to hold CIHR accountable in terms of the integration of ethics in its processes with the development of metrics to measure the impact of what is being done relative to ethics governance. This meeting was followed by an exchange of correspondence between Dr Aubin and the CBS president which can be found on the CBS website. A detailed historical account of this situation and the reaction of the research ethics community may also be found on the Impact ethics website.

Discussions on how to strengthen the relationship between the CBS and CIHR and the clarification of how this follow-up can be conducted specifically will be pursued this autumn, being a priority of the CBS board.

As you may recognize, the challenges that lay ahead for the CBS board and membership are both important and stimulating. The new CBS board which has been remodeled to have clearer accountabilities and job descriptions as well as an increased commitment to core functions linked to the CBS strategic plan is, I believe, in a good position to rise up to the challenge. A number of new members have joined the board with renewed energy and many very creative ideas to help attain our common objectives. I would like to welcome this year’s new Board members: Eugene Bereza (president elect), Phoebe Smith-Chen (Deputy Communications Coordinator), Lori d’Agincourt- Canning (conference liaison), Liz Walker (Diversity Officer), Joy Mendel (Fundraising coordinator), James Anderson (New initiatives Coordinator), Patrick McDonald (Partnership Community Relations) and Ozan Gurcan (Undergraduate Student at large). Members that have continued along with the board merit many thanks as well: Holly Longstaff (Communications Officer), Priya Somascanthan (Treasurer), Rosalind Abdool (Membership Coordinator) and Adeolu Adesugba (Graduate student at large - who has just resigned however). It is important to realize that the Board is run completely on volunteer hours and that to sustain the various activities of the CBS requires much collaboration and hard work. I wish therefore to thank the dedication of the CBS board members and CBS volunteers I general who invest time and energy all year round to increase the pertinence of the CBS for its members while striving to ensure its sustainability as a charity.

We also could not run this organization without the efforts of our new administrator, Amy Middleton, who provides much of the financial and administrative backbone to CBS. I thank her for taking up the challenge of accepting this responsibility after the departure of Lydia Riddell who had been with the CBS for over 17 years.

Finally I would like to say a word on next year’s annual conference which will be held in Winnipeg on the theme “Shadows and Light: Bioethics and Human Rights”. The conference coincides with the opening of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Many very interesting presentations and activities are planned. I encourage you all to join us (please note that the call for abstracts is now out) and I thank the local organizing committee and more particularly Jennifer Dunsford and Aviva Goldberg for the time and energy they are so generously investing in the planning of this conference.

I’m encouraged and motivated by the new found energy and engagement of CBS members towards the importance of bioethics in the development of public policies, in research, at the bedside, and at the theoretical level. Ethics and shared principles and values are foundational to our Canadian institutions and our social and health programs. As a united, strong and vibrant Bioethics community, we have the opportunity to ensure the ongoing relevance of the CBS for all its members and for society as a whole. Thank you for your confidence. As president, I hope to serve you well on the exciting road ahead and in the defense of our shared convictions.


Ghislaine Cleret de Langavant

President, Canadian Bioethics Society