The blog of the 2009 – 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Member Spotlight: Anita L. Allen


When Dr. Anita Allen moves in to her new office at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has recently been appointed Vice Provost for Faculty, she will bring her 1991 yearbook from Harvard Law School. Allen points out that the yearbook includes a portrait of her, then a visiting law professor, and also of then student leader and graduating law student, Barack Obama. Allen says that she never imagined that 20 years after those pictures were taken, Obama would be President and she would be a member of his Bioethics Commission, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

A graduate of Harvard Law, Allen has been a part of the University of Pennsylvania faculty since 1998. She is currently the Vice Provost for Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy.

When Dr. Allen was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Michigan, she was recruited to be a teaching assistant for a medical humanities course as well as a contemporary moral problems course. The topics covered in the courses, including women’s reproductive health issues and the right to die, fascinated her. She credits these two courses in particular with inspiring her interest in bioethics.  Her doctoral dissertation research brought her into contact with the U.S. Supreme Court’s right to family and personal privacy cases. The issue of privacy became a gateway to her engagement with a host of topics in clinical medicine and health research.

As a member of the Bioethics Commission Allen has had the opportunity to engage in a number of new topics. For example, she says that the science the Bioethics Commission learned about in connection with New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies was intriguing and that the problems of justice raised by “Ethically Impossible” STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948 were particularly gripping. In addition, Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing was an exciting report for her to be involved with given her interest in privacy law.

Allen says that being a part of the Bioethics Commission has been a highlight of her professional life. She was extremely honored to have been selected to serve the nation in this way under President Obama. “We have taken on questions of incredible complexity and drawn on the resources of top scholars and affected persons to help us in our deliberations— the work has been deeply satisfying.”


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This is a space for the members and staff of the 2009 -2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to communicate with the public about the work of the commission and to discuss important issues in bioethics.

As of January 15th, 2017 this blog will no longer be updated but continues to be available as an archive of the work of the 2009-2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Learn more about the 2009 - 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.