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Laura  Williamson - Augusta University. Augusta, GA, US

Laura Williamson Laura  Williamson

Director, Center for Bioethics and Health Policy | Augusta University

Augusta, GA, UNITED STATES

A leading health ethicist specializing in vaccine hesitancy, addiction research, bioethics and immunization mandates.

Biography

Dr. Williamson holds a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Liverpool. She has extensive experience with issues across the field of health ethics, spanning clinical ethics and public health. This also includes the ethical issues raised by the development of new technologies, like animal-to-human transplantation, the treatment of people living with disabilities or impairments and the use and assessment of clinical ethics committees.

Her current research focuses on substance use disorders (addiction), vaccine hesitancy, the use of immunization mandates, the role of stigma in public health and the importance of engaging patients and citizens in debates about health.

Dr. Williamson has published two research monographs and a range of peer-reviewed publications in high-ranking journals. Her media experience includes interviews for national and local print news outlets (UK), and live and recorded packages for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

Areas of Expertise (5)

Bioethics

Medical Ethics

Vaccine Hesitancy

Addiction Research

Immunization mandates

Education (2)

University of Surrey, St. Mary’s College: Bachelor's degree, Classical Studies and Theology

Philosophy Department, University of Liverpool, UK: Doctorate, Research Studentship

Affiliations (2)

  • American Public Health Association
  • American Society for Bioethics and Humanities

Media Appearances (3)

Doubts on pig organ transplants ignored

The Guardian  print

2003-06-28

An unveiling report revealing profound misgivings over the harvesting of animal organs for human transplants has been secretly buried by government officials.

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Ethicists fear free-for-all in animal-human transplants

The Guardian  print

2007-01-12

A government decision to scrap a committee which regulates animal-to-human transplants has drawn condemnation from ethicists who fear there could be a free-for-all in xenotransplantation. But the government insisted last night that the move last month was a response to a lack of interest in research into the transplants after it became clear that the science was not going to provide the answer to the shortages in donor organs.

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Govan cafe to to help boost local health

Glaskgow Times  

2012-11-18

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University will hold a Community Café in Govan's Pearce Institute on Friday to talk to people about boosting Scottish health.

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Articles (3)

The ethical impact of mandating childhood vaccination: The importance of the clinical encounter

Clinical Ethics

L. Williamson

Health ethics can justify the use of vaccination mandates. However, policies that pressurize parents to vaccinate their children can undermine traditional clinical ethics standards (e.g. autonomy and informed consent). The aim of this paper is to argue that the ethical impact of vaccination mandates can only be determined in the context of the clinical encounter. Public debate on the topic tends to be general in nature and, as a result, issues that require clarification to help sustain the trust of service users are underexamined. In addition, ethical debates are hampered by a toxic dichotomy in the public sphere between those (anti-vaccinators) who claim a move away from parental choice is necessarily a serious ethical violation; and others (often health scientists) who neglect serious consideration of ethical issues. This predicament permits flawed ethical claims to be made, and to remain unchallenged. Despite this, ethical concerns – including those relating to trust and individual freedom – are fundamental to sustaining confidence in vaccination. This has recently been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic which made accessing childhood vaccinations harder, leading to a further decline in uptake. The pandemic has also revealed the strength of public feeling towards infection control measures that restrict peoples’ freedoms. In this paper I argue that to minimize the ethical disruption associated with the use of vaccination mandates, it is essential to focus more attention on their impact in the clinic and to accurately identify the drivers of such tensions.

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Creating an ethical culture to support recovery from substance use disorders

Journal of Medical Ethics

L. Williamson

There is a long-standing failure to create an ethical culture around substance use disorders (SUDs) or dependence that actively supports people’s recovery efforts. Issues which impede the development of prorecovery environments are complex, but include the far-reaching effects of the social stigma that surrounds SUDs; and the failure to harness relational and social support that allows debates to transcend blaming individual substance users. As part of efforts to create prorecovery environments, it is important to acknowledge that bioethics debate on SUDs is narrow in scope, prioritising topics related to its traditional interests in individual autonomy and novel technologies. As a result, it has not played a significant role in helping to transform the ethical cultures in which substance use recovery takes place. For example, it largely neglects the ethical challenges of developing an empathic, person-centred approach to substance use problems that listens and responds to the voices of clients. It has also participated little in efforts to develop a positive response to reducing the toxic effects of stigma. Indeed, some contributions from the field fan stigma, rather than alleviate it. The aim of this paper is to seed broader ethical debate, in academic literature and lay/professional communities, on how societies should respond to SUDs: steering a course between the critical, but narrow approach of bioethics and the empowerment discourse of evidence-based treatments.

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Addressing vaccine hesitancy requires an ethically consistent health strategy

BMC Medical Ethics

Williamson, L., and Glaab, H.

Vaccine hesitancy is a growing threat to public health. The reasons are complex but linked inextricably to a lack of trust in vaccines, expertise and traditional sources of authority. Efforts to increase immunization uptake in children in many countries that have seen a fall in vaccination rates are two-fold: addressing hesitancy by improving healthcare professional-parent exchange and information provision in the clinic; and, secondly, public health strategies that can override parental concerns and values with coercive measures such as mandatory and presumptive vaccination.

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