Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Covid-19: conscience and duty for scientific advisers

Covid-19: scientific advisers must do more than just voice their concerns behind closed doors

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 26 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2534
  1. Minesh Khashu, consultant neonatologist
  1. Corfe Mullen, UK
  1. mineshkhashu{at}

Abbasi raises the important issue of conscience and duty for scientific advisers in the covid-19 pandemic.1

We expect all people in public office to abide by the Nolan principles,2 but time and again, we have found many falling short. The yardstick is even more stringent for scientific and medical advisers, who by virtue of their profession are guardians of science and truth.

Senior roles in government, rightly or wrongly, “train” such professionals to learn the art of compromise, but there should be limits to treading on this path. When precious lives are at stake and integrity is threatened, such professionals should not be protecting politicians or the government machinery but should come out in the open and highlight the “truths,” however difficult or uncomfortable these might be.

Scientific advisers should not hide behind the notion that they only “advise” and the final decision is not theirs. If the final decision is wrong and threatens life, they are obliged to do more than just voice their concerns behind closed doors. We expect our senior scientific and medical leaders to have the integrity and courage to stand up for what is right.

Being a bystander is a choice, the choice to be complicit.


  • Competing interests: None declared.

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