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Delivering a verdict: Ian Kennedy
Professor Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Bristol Inquiry, was in many ways ideally qualified to sift the complex issues involved.

But given his track record - and published views about the conduct of medical profession - his appointment to lead the inquiry by then Health Secretary Frank Dobson caused shivers of apprehension among many doctors.

He began with a commitment to be fair and even-handed to everyone taking part in the inquiry, but has already shown his teeth in an interim report - on "organ stripping" at Bristol.

He said of doctors: "The past has been characterised by a type of professional arrogance - an arrogance born of indifference."

However, despite the need to digest thousands of pages of highly technical evidence, Professor Kennedy is no doctor.

However, he has a career which has devoted itself to medicine as closely as any clinician.


What we have to identify is a culture which is gradually changing, and perhaps which needs to change more rapidly

Professor Ian Kennedy
He is an academic lawyer who, for the past few decades, has lectured on the ethics of medicine rather than its practicalities.

Currently Professor of Health Law, Ethics and Policy at University College, London, he is a former president of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics which he founded in 1978.

He has been a member of the Medicines Commission - and the Department of Health's Expert Advisory Group on Aids.

He has chaired the Secretary of State for Health's Advisory Group on Xenotransplantation and the Minister of Agriculture's Advisory Group on Quarantine.

Medical assistance

He has the support of medically-qualified panel members to help him wade through a morass of clinical detail, and expert statisticians to try to make sense of the numbers involved.

At the time of his organ stripping report, he told the BBC: "What we have to identify is a culture which is gradually changing, and perhaps which needs to change more rapidly."

Professor Kennedy has been perceived by many in the medical establishment as somewhat of an irritant for some years.

Reith lectures

As early as 1980, he delivered a series of Reith lectures, broadcast on the BBC, which contained trenchant criticism of way that doctors regulate themselves.

Talking about the lectures, he said: "There is an element in the practice of medicine of a closed professional group or coterie having a monopoly of understanding of certain things."

His previous tussles with the profession have certainly won him few friends in some quarters.

In the late 1980s, as the terrifying prospect of an HIV/Aids epidemic was emerging in the UK, some researchers were keen to anonymously check the blood of all women for the virus to see how prevalent it was in the general population.

When the suggestion was discussed at a House of Commons Select Committee shortly afterwards, it was fiercely opposed by Ian Kennedy, who, despite assurances that no positive result could be traced back to a particular woman, said that it was a violation of their rights.

The committee accepted this, and the introduction of such testing was delayed by a number of years - much to the disgust of many doctors.

One senior figure in the British research establishment says now: "We needed that data then, not a few years later - it was too bloody late by then."

As the professor enters his 60th year, this inquiry report will be for him very much a high water mark - he is unlikely ever again to be in such a position to influence the future of medicine in this country.

In 1980, he said that he did not see himself as a "social evangelist" - yet his report will certainly comprise a compelling sermon.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Professor Ian Kennedy
Talks about his approach to medical ethics in 1980
Full coverage of the Bristol heart babies inquiry report

Government response

Key stories

Key figures

Parents' stories

Background briefing

Analysis

Bristol year by year
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