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About the department

The Department of Equity, Ethics and Policy aims to provide an interdisciplinary home for research, training, and cross-sectoral collaboration on issues related to Equity, Ethics, and Policy. The Department will be dedicated to research, teaching, and outreach activities that address the ethical, policy, social, technological, legal and environmental issues that impact health and health equity. Its mission is to deepen scholarly perspectives in bioethics, law, social sciences, and health and social policy development and evaluation, and to inform policy and practice for improving population health and health equity.

Our department merges two units, the Institute for Health and Social Policy and the Biomedical Ethics Unit, with a long history of exchange and collaboration. DEEP builds on this foundation to provide an interactive platform to impart theories, methods, and knowledge from multiple disciplines, including epidemiology, ethics, philosophy, law, geography, environmental health, economics, psychology, sociology, and history, and create a culture of robust interdisciplinary research, training, and knowledge exchange.

Message from the Chair, Amélie Quesnel-Vallée

Amélie Quesnel-ValléeI am honored and excited to serve as the inaugural chair of the Department of Equity, Ethics and Policy (DEEP). As the merger of the Biomedical Ethics Unit (BMEU) and the Institute for Health and Social Policy (IHSP), two long-standing distinguished institutions of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill, DEEP may be a new department, but it is not a de novo community.

Building on this profound and far-reaching network of academic and community connections, I am enthused by the potential offered by this department to offer integrated approaches to policy and ethics that combine empirical and normative methods. Capitalizing on the combination of existing strengths in the BMEU and the IHSP within the School of Population and Global Health promises a whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, DEEP’s fundamentally interdisciplinary nature, arising notably from joint academic appointments with the Faculties of Arts and Law and the Bieler School of the Environment, catalyses its potential to tackle some of the most pressing issues threatening population health today.

Indeed, the most significant challenges facing our societies do not stop at disciplinary silos, which risk producing only partial solutions to persisting systemic issues. Take COVID-19: when Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tested positive for the disease early in the first wave, many were quick to affirm that it was proof that all were equally vulnerable in the face of the disease. But, of course, mere weeks later, what began as a disease of affluence followed the course that any student of equity would (and did) predict and brought devastation to the least privileged and most socially isolated in our societies. In so doing, it highlighted the persistence of systemic discrimination following age, disability, socioeconomic, and racialized status fault lines, to name only a few.

The COVID-19 pandemic also of course revealed myriad ethical quandaries, from mandates to the allocation of scarce resources. While the pandemic emergency may have subsided, these questions persist as our systems are navigating recovery efforts while still facing growing needs from an aged population. A legacy of the pandemic also lies in the remarkable performance of the mRNA vaccines that have ushered in a new ebullience around the promise of these therapies. As McGill is home to the new $165 million CFREF-funded “DNA to RNA (D2R): An Inclusive Canadian Approach”, DEEP members will be uniquely poised to contribute ethical expertise to these new developments.

Finally, on the policy front, global initiatives such as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and their precursors have long sought to overcome siloed approaches and inspired local decision-makers to establish decisional structures facilitating integrated policy solutions. Provincial and national examples respectively include the 2002 Article 54 de Loi sur la santé publique du Québec, which supports health impact assessments in all sectors of government action, or the 2018 mandate to conduct gender-based (GBA+) analysis for all budget proposals at the federal level. However, the full roll-out and scale-up of these approaches are being hampered by a bottleneck in capacity building: our institutions are simply not meeting demand, either in skillset or in numbers. This is only one of the examples of the areas where the training programs that DEEP will develop and the communities this department connects can make a difference.

Together, we can create an environment that supports innovative thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, and a commitment to academic excellence and social impact. I am committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our department's operations and ensuring that all members of our community feel valued and supported. Let us embrace this opportunity to shape the future of our department and make a lasting impact in our fields for the betterment of our communities.

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