The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Professor Simon Woods

Professor of Bioethics. PEALS Executive Director



I am a philosopher who works in bioethics, medical ethics and social philosophy. My early career was as a cancer nurse where my work as the manager of a regional Adult Leukaemia and Bone-marrow Transplant unit provoked my interest in ethical issues such as end of life decisions, clinical research and the relationship between patients, families and health-professionals. Over the next few years I pursued my developing research interests in end of life and palliative care, professional communication and clinical ethics as a Macmillan lecturer at Liverpool University. During this time I researched my PhD which addressed the social and ethical implications of the concept of 'quality of life' as applied to healthcare. My first academic position at the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy at Manchester University focused on the delivery of clinical ethics education for health professionals within the North-West of England as well as conducting international research on the values of Palliative care in Europe as a member of the PALLIUM Project. I joined PEALS (the Policy Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre) in 2003 as a Senior Lecturer and Co-Director. Since joining PEALS my research interests have expanded to include medical technology, genomics, 'Big Data' for health care but I continue to have a strong interest in research ethics, end of life issues and the patient experience.

Roles and Responsibilities

Executive Director of the Policy Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre (PEALS)

Co-Director of the Policy Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre (PEALS) (2003-2019)

School Post-Graduate Research Director(2016-2019)

Research Ethics Convenor for the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Research Ethics Committee Member: Faculty of Medical Sciences and Faculty of Science Agriculture and Engineering


PhD Bioethics (Manchester)
B.A. (Hons) Philosophy

Previous Positions

Lecturer in Bioethics, Institute of Medicine Law and Bioethics/ Centre for Social ethics and Policy, School of Law, University of Manchester.
School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, University of Manchester. Lecturer in Nursing (Feb. 1998 – Oct 1999).
Department of Nursing, University of Liverpool: Macmillan Lecturer in Cancer Nursing (1993 –1998).


Research Interests


Bioethics/ Medical Ethics and social philosophy. As a philosopher working within medical ethics and bioethics I am interested in the relationship and constructive contributions of philosophical and empirical approaches to interdisciplinary research. Central themes in my work include; the nature and scope of autonomy, professional power and responsibility, personal choice and best interests, ethics and governance within medical/ health-care practices and the life sciences. These themes have been the basis of my research within substantive areas such as end of life care and decisions, clinical and research ethics and the burgeoning area of genomics as well as the technological advances within the medical life-sciences. My work has also addressed a wider range of issues such as the relationship between the life-sciences and art, science and society and the relationships and potential tensions between medicine in society and the emergence of social phenomena such as ‘recreational’ genomics and body ‘projects’ such as tattooing and body modification.

A wide selection of my publications can be downloaded from Newcastle University's 'e-prints service'.

Other Expertise

Current and completed work

  • Co-Investigator: Synthetic Portabolomics: Leading the way at the crossroads of the Digital and the Bio Economies. EPSRC (£4,267,554.91) May 2016-2021. P.I. Professor Nat Krasnagor. Recently awarded; I am leading the responsible innovation strand of the project. 

  • Co-Investigator:  Prof Julian Hughes (PI): Wellcome Trust SEED award: Art, Authenticity and Citizenship in Care Homes. £32,607.75 in collaboration with Helix Arts.

  • Genomics England Clinical Interpretation Partnership (Ethics) Domain Leader with Dr Pauline McCormack. Leading a multi-centre collaboration to explore the experience of patient public participation in the UK 100,000 Genomes Project.

  • Co-Investigator RD- Connect: 2012-18 E.U. FP7 (€12m). Co-Ordinator: Professor Hanns Lochmüller (Institute of Genetic Medicine Newcastle). The project is developing an integrated platform connecting databases, registries, biobanks and clinical bioinformatics for international rare disease research. The substantial ethics work-package is a necessary and major component. I have responsibility for management of an R.A. and to lead work to ensure that patient perspectives are recognised and integrated into project policies and to lead research on the issues of consent and confidentiality in the context of biomedical “Big Data”. In addition I am a member of the International Project Ethics Council (which supports two related EU genomics projects). 
  • Social Media Analysis for Social Geography: SOMAG is an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded interdisciplinary project. Geographers, urbanists and computer scientists are collaborating to understand how people use social media to overcome barriers to inclusive local communities, such as civic disengagement and social apathy. My role is as an ethics advisor to the research team.
  • SYBIL: 2013 - EU FP7. (€12m) (Systems biology for the functional validation of genetic determinants of skeletal diseases) Co-Ordinator Professor Mike Briggs (IGM Newcastle).The European Commission has awarded over to this five year project involving 18 partners across Europe, which hopes to make breakthroughs in the treatment of these diseases, which affect tens of thousands of people in the UK and across Europe. My role is to support the project as a research ethics expert and as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee with responsibility for ethics advice.

Research: Completed Projects

  • Co-Invesitgator BIO-NMD: 2009-2012 EU FP6: Co-ordinator Prof. Alessandra Ferlini at Ferara University Italy. Overall goal of project to develop biomarkers for rare disease with a view to clinical application in diagnosis and treatment. In collaboration with Professor Volker Straub (Newcastle Muscle Centre). My role, management of an R.A. scoping the social and ethical issues of the project and in addition as Chair of the Project Ethics Board.
  • Co-Investigator - TREAT-NMD: 2007 – 2011 EU FP6 Network of Excellence: (€12m) Co-ordinators Professors Volker Stroub and Kate Bushby. An international initiative bringing together some of the world's leading neuromuscular and aimed at improving treatment and finding cures for patients with neuromuscular disorders. Linking 21 partner organisations and over 300 doctors, researchers and other professionals throughout 11 European countries. My role as work-package leader included managing and R.A. and responsible for the ethics work-package exploring the social and ethical aspects of researching with vulnerable groups, early clinical trials with children, stem-cell and gene-therapies, regulatory and ethical challenges, patient and public communication. In addition I established and chaired the Project Ethics Council, a high level advisory group comprised of international expertise and patient representatives. TREAT-NMD has continued as an international alliance in which I have remained active as a member of the Ethics Council and as an Oversight Committee Member to the TREAT-NMD Global Patient Registry– responsible for ethics and governance of an international patient data-base.
  • Co-Investigator - SmartHealth: 2006-2010 FP6 Integrated Project. (€8m) Co-ordinator Professor Calum McNeil (FMS). The SmartHEALTH Integrated Project aimed to develop and deliver the next generation of smart diagnostic systems utilising nano-biotechnology and remote communication systems. Driven by key applications in cancer diagnostics, SmartHEALTH looked to enable enhanced medical diagnosis. With management responsibility for an R.A. as work-package leader: responsible for the ethics work-package exploring the social and ethical implications of medical-nano-biotechnology applied to rapid diagnostic devices.
  • Co-Investigator - DGEMap 2005 – 2008: FP6 Design Study. (€3m) Co-ordinator Professor Susan Lindsay. This project aims to define the organisational structures, ethical framework, and technologies for molecular genetics and informatics necessary for a proposed new centre for research on gene expression in early human development. My work as work-package leader was to take management responsibility for an R.A and plan and oversee an enquiry into the social ethical and regulatory challenges of working with human foetal tissue obtained via legal termination of pregnancy.
  • Collaborator - STEMDIAGNOSTICS – FP6. The Development of new Diagnostic Tests, New Tools and Non-Invasive Methods for the Prevention, Early Diagnosis of GVHD.  Co-ordinator: Professor Anne Dickenson (ICM Newcastle) I had responsibility for ethics advice and the co-ordination and delivery of international continuing professional development related to research ethics.
  • Principle Investigator - Life Knowledge Park (2005-2006) small grant to support Literature review on PGD and sex selection £2,500 (2005 – 2006)

Postgraduate Supervision

I would be interested in supervising students in any of the following areas: Bioethics (philosophical or empirical) especially in areas related to clinical ethics, end of life issues, genetic technologies, research ethics, especially human tissues, 'Big data', 'lay' use of technologies for health/ enhancement/ aesthetic purposes.

Currently Supervising

Annie Featherstone (MD)

Rashmi Manning (MD)

Luke Martin (TRF Doctoral Fellow)


Henderson R.A. PhD (Completed 2008) “The problem of consent in paediatric gene-therapy research.” (With Bushby and Shakespeare)

Wienroth M PhD (Completed 2009) “The lowest common denominator? A Newcastle case study on the interdisciplinary nature of nano (bio)technology.” (With Haimes)

Skyrme S (2008-2011) “Research decisions: Living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. (With McLaughlin)

Esteem Indicators

National Ethics Advisors' Panel Member, (NHS) Health Research Authority: National Research Ethics Service.

Visiting Scholar Aalborg University Denmark September 2015-January 2016.

IRDiRC – International Rare Diseases Research Consortium ethics working group member.

Chair: International Ethics Council, TREAT-NMD EU FP6 Network of Excellence (2008-2013)

Oversight Committee Member: TREAT-NMD Global Registry. (2008-)

NHS Research Ethics Committee Vice-Chair (Newcastle and North Tyneside 1 2008-2013)

University of Northumbria Research Ethics Committee Lay Member (2003 -2008)

Associate Editor: BMC Medical Ethics

Reviewer for the following Journals: Journal of Medical Ethics, Bioethics, Medicine Philosophy and Healthcare, Sociology, Reproductive Biomedicine Online, Human Fertility.

Academic reviewer:
Macmillan Publishers.
Oxford University Press
Open University Press

Assessor for National/ International Research Panels:
Wellcome Trust
NSC Northern Ireland

EPSRC Peer Review College Member


I have been invited to give evidence or opinion to consultations organised by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Health Research Authority, European Medicines Agency. 


Current and recently taught courses.

 GNM8-MSc: Genomic Medicine MSc Programme

 N1516-GNM8008: GNM8008: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues in Applied Genomics (15/16)

 O1415-MGS8002: MGS8002: Research Skills for Health Care Professionals (14/15)

 N1516-MSC8002: MSC8002: Research Skills for Health Care Professionals (E-learning) (15/16)

 Q1213-SOC2083: Q1213-Investigating the Body: Sociological Debates about the Social, Legal an

 R1112-CMS8007: R1112-Ethical & Social Issues in Medical Genetics

 R1112-BIO3015-BIO8011: R1112-Social Impact of Biology

 S1011-CMS8007: S1011-Ethical & Social Issues in Medical Genetics

 S1011-BIO3015-BIO8011: S1011-Social Impact of Biology

 N1516-SOC2056: SOC2056: Sociology of Health and Illness (15/16)

 O1415-SOC3090: SOC3090:I nvestigating the Body: Sociological Debates about the Social, Legal and Creative Management of the Human Body (14/15)

 N1516-SOC3090: SOC3090: Investigating the Body: Sociological Debates about the Social, Legal and Creative Management of the Human Body (15/16)

CPD Modules and courses

Research Ethics

Children's participation in research

Adults Lacking Capacity in Research

Social Care Research involving adults who lack capacity