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

Presenters’ Additional Reflections on Bioethics Advisory Bodies

Presenters at today’s Bioethics Commission meeting continued their discussion on the impact of bioethics advisory bodies. Future efforts in bioethics and health policy can take into account lessons learned from the experiences of advisory bodies before them.

In the third session of the day, the Bioethics Commission heard from a variety of speakers considering the past, present, and future impact of such groups. Presenters included Ruth Macklin, Distinguished University Professor Emerita in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Harold T. Shapiro, President Emeritus and current Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. In addition, the commission heard from Rebecca Dresser, Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law at Washington University in St Louis, and Eugenijus Gefenas, Chairperson, Bureau of the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Ruth Macklin previously presented before the Bioethics Commission during Meeting 6 on the topic of international research ethics. Today, she spoke of her time on the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) (1994-1995) under President Clinton. She also spoke about her membership as a staff consultant on NBAC, and the challenges of writing reports while commission members were changing their minds about recommendations. She spoke about maintain intellectual and moral integrity, when writing on behalf of others’ views.

Harold T. Shapiro drew from his time as Chair on the National Bioethics Advisory Commission under President Clinton (1995-2001) and as a member of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under President George W. Bush. He noted that we need to be specific about what bioethics is, what topics are important, and what kind of experts are needed to deliberate. He emphasized that whatever structure a bioethics commission takes, the important factor is that the leadership has access to people who can make change.

Rebecca Dresser previously spoke before the Bioethics Commission during Meeting 17 regarding ethical and societal implications of neuroscience, commenting on research protections for participants who might have impaired consent capacity. Today, she considered her time on the President’s Council on Bioethics under President George W. Bush, offering her own insights about what can happen when bioethics is conducted in the national spotlight, especially when the debates have partisan political aspects. She learned that people of different views can engage in civil debate, despite diverse backgrounds and moral commitments. “Deliberation in bioethics should expand to include the voices of as many possible of those now excluded,” she said.

Eugenijus Gefenas reflected on his experience on UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Bioethics Advisory Committee. He observed “Europe is a good example of capacity building for bioethics committees,” because the countries are different in terms of economics and size. He described some challenges that national bioethics advisory bodies face, including the difficulty of directly implementing recommendations and of measuring impact.

Next up: a roundtable discussion with all of our presenters from today’s meeting. Stay tuned!

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Read the comment policy before posting your comment.


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.