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Former Bioethics Commissions*

As a public resource, we offer on this page a list of all former U.S. national bioethics commissions (and one prominent international one), with all of their reports (and, where available, a downloadable copy of the report).


[2001-2009] President's Council on Bioethics (PCBE)

Archived PCBE website

Created by President George W. Bush in 2001, the Council was charged with advising the President on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology. It expired in 2009.

[1996-2001] National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC)

Archived NBAC website

This commission met for the first time in 1996, a year after it was created by Executive Order. It expired in 2001.

[1994-1995] Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments

Created in January 1994 and dissolved in October 1995, the 14-member Committee was charged with investigating and reporting on the use of human beings as subjects of federally funded research using ionizing radiation. To maximize public access as required under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Committee created for the first time a gopher site on the World Wide Web, which is now under the National Security Agency Archives at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/radiation/ . For additional information, see http://www.hss.energy.gov/HealthSafety/ohre/roadmap/index.html

[1994] Human Embryo Research Panel (National Institutes of Health)

This panel was formed by the National Institutes of Health in January 1994. The group classified human embryo research into three categories: acceptable, needing additional review, and unacceptable. It also drafted guidelines for the review and conduct of acceptable research. The Advisory Committee to the Director of NIH unanimously approved the report, but President Clinton issued a statement saying, "I do not believe that federal funds should be used to support the creation of human embryos for research purposes, and I have directed that NIH not allocate any resources for such research."

[1989-ongoing as of 2010] NIH-DOE Joint Working Group on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) of Human Genome Research

ELSI is the largest bioethics initiative funded by the government, where a percentage of the research budgets within the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services is set aside to study the ethical, legal and social implications of research on the human genome. Begun in 1989, a joint working group between the two departments analyzes critical issues and provides guidance. Currently ELSI focuses on four priority areas: (1) the use and interpretation of genetic information; (2) clinical integration of genetic technologies; (3) issues surrounding genetics research; and (4) public and professional education and training on those issues.

[1988-1990] Biomedical Ethical Advisory Committee

The 14 initial members of this Committee were selected by the Biomedical Ethics Board, which was made up of six senators and six members of Congress. The group functioned only briefly from late 1988 to early 1989 and had two meetings before its parent group became politically deadlocked due to abortion politics, its appropriations were frozen, and finally its term expired in 1990.

[1988] Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel

The National Institutes of Health created this 21 member advisory panel, composed of medical researchers, clergy, ethicists, lawyers, and politicians, to deliberate over federal support of therapeutic transplantation research using human tissue obtained from aborted fetuses. The group existed from the spring to the fall of 1988. In its December report, the panel in a majority vote of 19 to 2 recommended continuing the funding for such research if guidelines were established to keep abortion separate from the research. Despite the recommendation, the moratorium on such research that went into place as this topic was debated was extended from a temporary one to an indefinite one.

[1984] Great Britain: The Warnock Report on Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Chaired by Dame Mary Warnock, the 15-member committee examined the social, ethical, and legal implications of developments in assisted reproduction.

[1978-1983] President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research

This Congressionally mandated group was formed in 1978, succeeding the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. It worked independently from January 1980 to March 1983.

[1978-1979] Ethics Advisory Board (EAB)

This group began in 1978 under the auspices of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Its pronouncement on human embryo research in 1979 followed by the EAB dissolution began a 15-year moratorium on such research.

[1974-1978] National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research

The first public national body to shape bioethics policy in the U.S., this commission was created by Congress in 1974 and was under the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare (now known as the Dept. of Health and Human Services) until 1978.

*Information on bioethics commissions taken from: Poland, Susan Cartier,“Bioethics Commissions: Town Meetings with a ‘Blue, Blue Ribbon’,”
[Scope Note 34], Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 1998 March; 8(1):
91-109, Available as a monograph from National Reference Center for
Bioethics Literature, Kennedy Institute, Georgetown University,
Washington, DC 20057-1212; 888-BIOETHX. This article can be accessed at: http://bioethics.georgetown.edu/publications/scopenotes/sn34.pdf



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