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Ruth Horn

BA, MA, MA Res, PhD

Senior Researcher in Ethics

  • Research Fellow, Wellcome Centre for Ethics and the Humanities, University of Oxford
  • University Research Lecturer


Ruth Horn is a University Research Lecturer based at the Ethox Centre in the Nuffield Department of Population Health. Ruth is a researcher on the PAGE (Prenatal Assessment of Genomes and Exomes) Ethics Research Programme and has recently completed a Wellcome Trust Fellowship, which involved conducting comparative ethnographic research exploring the practical ethical issues arising in the use of advance directives in the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

She has studied Sociology in Germany (BA, University Ludwig-Maximilian, Munich) and France (MA, University Paris Diderot; MA Res and PhD, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris), and has held research fellowships from the Wellcome Trust, European Commission, the French National Health Care Insurance, and the French National Cancer League. Ruth is an associate member of the research centre SPHERE, CNRS, University Paris Diderot. She is secretaire general of the EACME (European Association of Centre of Medical Ethics).


Ruth’s research focuses on ethical questions raised by medical practices and new technologies at the beginning and end of life. She has developed a comparative ethnographic approach to understand how ethical problems arise and are addressed in clinical settings where ethically sensitive, and sometimes controversial, decisions are made. Her approach, combining literature review and ethnographic research, allows the identification of country-specific, as well as shared, ethical and social problems. Understanding problems within their socio-cultural, legal and structural context generates important elements for the development of ethical practice.

End of Life

Ruth has examined dilemmas at the end of life, with a particular interest in the tensions between patient autonomy and professional duties such as protecting vulnerable persons and maintaining life. Her PhD which explored the euthanasia debate and underlying end-of-life practices in France and Germany is published in a monograph: Le droit de mourir: Choisir sa fin de vie en France et en Allemagne, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2013. Drawing on her doctoral work Ruth became interested in advance decisions (ADs) to refuse treatment, their implementation, and ethical and practical problems associated with these directives in England, France and Germany. Her research, funded by the European Commission and the Wellcome Trust, compared the legislation and arguments regarding ADs employed in public and professional discourses and the practices in the three countries studied. Her in-depth analyses explored ways to improve the use of ADs that are adapted to cultural variation as well as to transnational needs.

Beginning of Life

Building on her earlier end-of-life work, Ruth is currently using a similar methodological approach to conduct empirical research on the ethical problems faced by health professionals involved in a UK research project, which offers invasive prenatal genomic testing to women who have had an undiagnosed but serious anomaly identified in their pregnancy, i.e. at the beginning of life. The aim of the scientific study - the Prenatal Assessment of Genomes and Exomes (PAGE) study - is to develop better techniques to improve rates of prenatal diagnosis and Ruth’s work on this project has complemented this scientific research by informing debate at a national and international level about the practical ethical issues the wider use of such testing might generate. More information here.