Drug Safety
Health Services Research

144 College Street
Toronto ON M5S 3M2

Area of Research

Alison Thompson’s research focuses on ethical issues that arise from public health policies, particularly in the intersection of public health and the general public. She examines ethical issues relating to infectious diseases, outbreak communications, vaccine hesitancy, pandemic influenza planning and medical assistance in dying.

Research Challenge

Many public health policies have ethical implications, and some are perceived by the public as being controversial. These policies can be polarizing, putting the public and scientific community against each other. This divide is often the result of some segments of the population not trusting public health institutions, the government and even science itself.

For example, some people are hesitant about or opposed to vaccination, despite strong scientific evidence of the benefits. Another segment of the population, those affected by Lyme disease, are angry with public health organizations and medical professionals. In both cases, the public does not trust institutions. A better understanding of what would make these institutions more trustworthy could help to open a dialogue and repair these fraught relationships. 

Proposed Solution

Thompson’s research examines the intersection of scientific expertise and lay knowledge. She uses qualitative and conceptual approaches to analyze the ethical issues of public health problems, with the aim of understanding public perspectives of contentious scientific questions and brokering a dialogue between the public and the scientific community.

She also studies how journalism can be used to communicate scientific findings to the public in a straightforward way.

Impact To Date

Thompson has published a number of papers and consulted with various organizations on projects related to ethical issues and communications with the public. She worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) on developing an outbreak communications guide, and she has worked with municipal, provincial and federal governments on their pandemic influenza plans and the ethical issues that arise from these plans. More recently, she has partnered with the Law Commission of Ontario to explore ethical issues around suffering at end of life and whether suffering affects an individual’s capacity to consent to end of life treatment.

Keywords: public health policy, health care ethics, bioethics, clinical bioethics, health policy, policy making, patient care, biomedicine, infectious disease