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

Reflections on National Bioethics Advisory Bodies

At today’s meeting, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) reflected on its own tenure and that of other bioethics advisory bodies.

In the first panel session of the day, the Bioethics Commission heard from a series of speakers reflecting on the past, present, and future impact of national bioethics advisory bodies. Presenters included Jason Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and History of Medicine at Yale University; James Childress, University Professor and John Allen Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics at University of Virginia; Michael Gazzaniga, Director of SAGE Center for the Study of Mind and UC-Santa Barbara; and Nandini Kumar, former Deputy Director of the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Jason Schwartz has written widely on the history of national bioethics advisory bodies, decision making in public policy, and the structure and function of scientific expert advice to government. He addressed the impact of previous national bioethics commissions, highlighting the unique contributions that the current model for acquiring advice on bioethical issues can offer. He noted that bioethics commissions can serve an agenda setting role, identifying pressing issues of the day and bringing them to the fore. For more on this history, including links to previous commissions’ reports, click here.

Childress served as a consultant to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), which outlined ethical principles governing research involving human participants. He was also a member of other bioethics advisory bodies including the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee and the Biomedical Ethics Advisory Committee. He observed that part of the overall impact of NBAC was to contribute to a public conversation about bioethics. NBAC’s work stimulated public discourse, informed public policy in the United States and abroad, and generated significant media interest in topics in bioethics.

Gazzaniga recalled his time as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. He noted, “there should always be a bioethics council advising the President,” despite the sometimes controversial nature of the topics that the President’s Council took on. “People change their minds as a result of the public discourse,” he said, emphasizing the important function of diverse bioethics advisory bodies deliberating in public to bring values and facts to light.

Kumar previously collaborated with the Bioethics Commission as a member of the international panel that informed their report Moral Science. She discussed her time as a member of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and contemporary bioethical issues arising in India. She stressed the contribution of the ICMR in helping to revise guidelines on many topics in bioethics in India, including informed consent, biobanking, and other important issues.

Following the four presentations, the Bioethics Commission engaged in a lively discussion with the panelists about the topics, structure, and function of Bioethics Commissions and looked towards the future, offering opinions on the best model going forward.

Stay tuned for more of this discussion, continuing in Session 2 at 12:30pm.

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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.