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

Member Spotlight: Nita Farahany

Nita Pink ShirtNita Farahany, J.D., Ph.D. wrote in her high school “last will and testament” that she aspired to be both a lawyer and a doctor one day. Farahany achieved that goal, and then some. In April 2010 President Obama appointed her to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (the Bioethics Commission). She is also the Director of Science and Society at the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, Professor of Law and Philosophy, and Professor of Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke University. Her research focuses on the legal, philosophical, and social issues arising from developments in the biosciences, particularly behavioral genetics and neuroscience.

Farahany is the daughter of Iranian immigrants to the United States who dreamed of their daughter becoming a lawyer or a doctor. She enrolled in Dartmouth College with the goal of attending medical school, and she studied pre-med for most of her college career. After a medical school visit during her junior year, however, Farahany reconsidered that goal.

“During that visit I saw my first cadaver and nearly fainted! It was the final nudge that I needed to convince me that practicing medicine was not my chosen path,” she said.

On a new path, Farahany completed her B.A. in genetics, cell and developmental biology and afterwards accepted a job with a strategy consulting company in Cambridge, Mass. While there, she began working toward a master’s degree at Harvard. As she studied behavioral genetics in that program she was intrigued by how science and law came together with the use of genetics in criminal law. It inspired her to pursue a dual degree program in law and philosophy at Duke University, where, on her first day, she told her criminal law professor that she wanted to study the role of behavioral genetics and neuroscience on criminal responsibility. That focus continued from day one through her dissertation.  Her dissertation was entitled The Impact of Behavioral Genetics on Criminal Law.

In 2004 Farahany graduated with a J.D. and an M.A. in Philosophy from Duke Law School. In 2006 she fulfilled her high school pledge and became both a lawyer and a doctor by earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy, also from Duke. In 2007, she was awarded her ALM in Biology from Harvard.

The path to becoming both a lawyer and a doctor was not the one Farahany imagined, nor did she foresee that she would serve on a presidential commission. “It’s been extraordinary honor to serve on the Bioethics Commission. Particularly at this relatively early stage in my career, the opportunity to serve alongside such a talented and distinguished group of commissioners and staff has given me the chance to expand my horizons,” Farahany said.



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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.