An Institute for the Integration of Ethics, Law, Society, Culture and Health

Executive Summary

The health and well-being of Canadians is a prime responsibility of our national health institutes. Ensuring that health research genuinely improves the health and wellbeing of Canadians requires an integrated approach of knowledge from a variety of sources. Hence, more than one line of inquiry is necessary to reveal meaningful solutions to health and health care issues. For example, every issue in health research and clinical practice has a significant ethical dimension, and also intersects with legal, social, and cultural factors. Consequently, the social aspects of health research and clinical issues are often dealt with in a fragmented manner (if dealt with at all), with serious consequences for patients, families, and communities. While interdisciplinary research is a relatively recent phenomenon it is an essential component of addressing the health care needs of Canadians.

In this position Paper we propose to integrate the fields of ethics, law, society, culture, and health within health research in Canada. We wish to foster interdisciplinary research that directly or indirectly addresses concepts such as social justice and public participation. Specifically, we propose a virtual Institute for the Integration of Ethics, Law, Society, Culture, and Health within the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. The fundamental question the proposed virtual Institute will address is how a variety of disciplines can integrate and evolve with a shared (cross-cutting) quest to improve health and well-being of Canadians. We argue that an integrative approach to ethics, law, society, culture, and health is necessary because of the complexity of the problems that occur at all levels of health care.

The proposed Institute for Integration of Ethics, Law, Society, Culture, and Health would allow health care researchers and providers, patients and families, communities, policy makers, and government agencies to come together to map out creative ways of addressing the complex health problems that face Canadians today.

This proposed Institute would:

  • build on and maintain interdisciplinary research expertise
  • generate cutting edge substantive interdisciplinary work on concepts such as social justice and public participation, and
  • exist as an integrative resource for other researchers, research agencies, and institutes in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

In keeping with the mandate of CIHR, the overall goal of the proposed Institute would be to foster research that is of value for Canadians, and to mobilize such research for policy and action.

In this Position Paper on a proposed virtual Institute we begin with a short, “on the ground” illustration of why such an institute is needed. A brief introduction is presented, followed by a mission statement and a rationale for the proposed Institute. These are followed by a section to highlight resources available and how these might be mobilized. In a subsequent section we describe the governance of the proposed Institute and its activities both under the umbrella of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and in the larger community.

We then discuss the importance of establishing and maintaining continuity with existing and proposed new concepts within the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, whether this proposed Institute for the Integration of Ethics, Law, Society, Culture, and Health goes forward or not. Finally, a tentative budget and timeframe are provided.