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Friday, November 21, 2008

Session 7: Public Comments


CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO:   We now come to that part of the program where we ask for public comments. I have two requests, one from Susan Poland and the other from Doris Goldstein, both people I know very well. Susan ?

MS. POLAND: Thank you, Dr. Pellegrino. I'd like to thank all of you who are here and that are not here. I have enjoyed listening to your comments, your criticisms, and all of the presentations that I've heard over the years. They're very enlightening and very useful.

Some of you will hear comments I'm going to make that will second what you've said earlier. And just because I don't remember your name right now doesn't mean I don't think any less of you. I essentially have three comments to make. This is going to be based on a piece I wrote about national commissions, particularly the lineage here, and also commissions throughout the world that I did when I was — it's now on the Web as a Scope Note with the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature. The other part is being based on what I've seen here and what I've seen in other meetings as I worked over at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics.

The first point is, this is a federal body or a federal institution — whatever you want. Its character is federal. I really like the fact it relates to the executive branch primarily and only. I would, however, like to see a new take — a different stance. Rather than worrying about the product of what you're making — I'm not saying don't produce reports, but rather than worry about that product at this unique time when so many people are involved and needing leadership, focus on relationships, and see some more liaison done with Congress, whether it's Congressional and Research Service or what would have been OTA, and the judiciary, such as the Federal Judicial Center, see what the impact of some of this would be so we don't have a shadow fiasco, we don't have tons of abortion cases clogging up the federal judiciary. Just work on those liaisons at that federal level.

The second point is that this is also — oh, back to the federal part. I'd also like to see more done within the executive branch and find out what the clinical center's bioethics department does compared to you, find out what some of these other committees do compared to you and bioethics and how they relate. They were — the Secretary of Health and Human Services and how those function.

The second point is, this is a national body, so I'd also like to see it work with the states. There is an Office of State Courts down in Williamsburg. There might be others. But as a national body you also work with other countries. You are the American or US point that contacts them. I remember well that meeting where these people from Britain came in and talked about genetics as a policy body and then they talked about it as a regulatory system, and that was very helpful to understand those two things.

My third point has to do more with technology or education. I always regretted the fact that you did not televise or otherwise put on the web or anywhere some of these things, because what's put in print isn't necessarily always what's up on the screen. And there's so much technology out there and so many young people involved in looking at government now and actually in college or high school that you can put a lot of your points of view out there and have people pick it up, because I really feel like this is — it's critical to be diverse. I mean, there are other countries that have 20 scientists all of the same kind and one token person that's with the public. It's really critical to have a different point of view and different backgrounds and to have really good science put out, and I think you can — with the speed with which science develops, you can actually educate people broader about it.

I've always felt bad about two comments. One is that Roe v. Wade was decided prematurely. There was never enough public debate. And the other one that we hear sometimes in bioethics is everything goes back to abortion. And, of course, in this Western Judeo-Christian culture, that's where we're sort of stuck on debating those things, but at least when we debate, or listen to your debates, it is so diverse people will realize there is not one opinion, and they'll work out for building relationships that way.

And that being said, I can't think of anything else except thank you.

CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Susan. Doris ? And I hope the Council members will give me the last word when Doris Goldstein is finished, because I have another statement to make very, very briefly.

MS. GOLDSTEIN: Thank you for the opportunity to speak. What struck me in your slides, Dr. Pellegrino, was the comment about effectiveness and about the educational impact. And as a librarian — I'm at the Kennedy Institute also at the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature. And one of the amazing things we've seen as we've added the digital archive of the prior commission was the interest in those materials. So you may look at your impact right now, but the effectiveness is ongoing. As a librarian, I'm interested in the preservation of knowledge and in the dissemination of information. Our times have never been better. We have the opportunity to — we've had people come from as many as 141 countries to our website in a quarter. So you are having a worldwide impact that will continue far beyond the life of this commission, should it be till September of 2009.

The other way that you're having an impact is, as I looked in the organization's database that we have on our Web site, there are 60 organizations like yours throughout the world, so this is not an isolated phenomenon, even though it has a long history in the United States. You are having an impact on how people deliberate on these issues worldwide. So I think, you know, you should have no doubt about the importance of what you've done.

So it's really thank you.

CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank you very much, Doris. And I'd like to conclude by thanking what we in physiology, some of my colleagues will remember, used to refer to as — forgive me for the Latin, but that's one of my failings — vis a tergo, the force from behind. And the force behind this whole organization since I've taken it over is an official government representative right here on my left, Dan Davis, who really has done the work of the Council, and I think all of you are very much aware of that. It's totally impossible for me to have done anything without his assistance, but not just his assistance. We mentioned also the other members of the staff. I'm not going to mention all of them. You know them, those of you, as directed chiefly to the members of the Council.

I also want to thank my special assistant, Marti Patchell, who had the perdurability to survive working for me for some twenty-five plus years, and, Marti, I thank you enormously. I also thank all of the young, eager, excellent researchers who have done the spade work for both Dan and for me.

As I said, I didn't want it to be a farewell address, but lest it go by that the chief vis a tergo, the push from below, the push — the guy who pushes me from time [audio lost]. He wants to be sure that you hear it.

Well, anyway, I won't go on and on. I presume we will see each other again. But, Dan, thank you very much. Marti, thank you. David, everybody. I haven't seen all of you.

A final word. Doris and Laura and Susan represent the bioethics library at Georgetown, which I'm going to say without equivocation, and I'll take anybody on who challenges me, is the very finest bioethics library anywhere in the world. And they are the best bibliographers in the world.

Thank you very much.

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