Hillary Wicai Viers – blog.Bioethics.gov https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog The blog of the 2009 - 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Mon, 09 Jan 2017 23:23:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bioethics Commission Participates in White House BRAIN Conference https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/10/01/bioethics-commission-participates-in-white-house-brain-conference/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/10/01/bioethics-commission-participates-in-white-house-brain-conference/#respond Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:30:59 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=1435 At the White House BRAIN Conference yesterday, Lisa M. Lee, Executive Director of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) joined other representatives from federal agencies to discuss the progress and the goals of the BRAIN Initiative.  Her remarks, as part of the panel “Current Activities, Long-Term Goals, and Critical Components for Success,” follow.

Dr. Holdren, colleagues, honored guests:

Thank you for the opportunity to update you on the Bioethics Commission’s progress and role related to this White House Grand Challenge.

We all know that advances in biomedicine, science, and technology come with a range of ethical considerations.

The Bioethics Commission is an independent advisory panel comprising a variety of disciplines including law, philosophy, medicine, science, and engineering. We seek to identify policies and practices that will ensure that scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in a socially and ethically responsible manner.

So, we were delighted last year when President Obama asked us to review the ethical considerations associated with neuroscience research as part of the BRAIN Initiative.

Earlier this year, we released the first of two reports in response to his charge. That report: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society. We’ve heard that word a lot today—”integrative”—and that’s my message here.

In Gray Matters the Commission called for adequate and clearly demarcated funding to achieve its recommendation of integrating ethics explicitly and systematically throughout neuroscience research.

Such integration allows us to incorporate ethical insights into the scientific process and to consider societal implications of neuroscience research from the very beginning.

Ethics integration – early and throughout research – can prevent the need for corrective interventions, and help build public trust in science. Integration prevents intervention.

We have collected public comments from professional organizations, affected communities and individuals and have engaged with the scientific community, all of whom bring to bear a variety of important perspectives on contemporary neuroscience.

We heard from many, including the Salk Institute, the Allen Institute, and the Kavli Foundation, and others.

In our first report, we actually recommended that BRAIN Initiative-related scientific advisory bodies include substantive participation by persons with relevant expertise in the ethical and societal implications of the neuroscience under consideration.

The Commission did not recommend a single model of integration – there are many good options and we reported on several of these. We did highlight DARPA’s exemplary work in this area. DARPA successfully combines several approaches to ethics integration including

  • Consulting with an independent panel of ethics experts,
  • Linking program managers with ethics mentors, and
  • Setting aside funds for ethics consultation.

In short – good science is ethical science. We point to DARPA’s example because we are keenly aware that ethics recommendations can be interpreted as just one more bureaucratic hurdle in the way of scientific discovery.

Clearly, DARPA’s integrated model has not hampered its progress or broken its bank.

Our commission works diligently to make practical recommendations— recommendations that both de-mystify ethics and facilitate good science. We know that so much can be gained from neuroscience research. And I think we all agree that we must ensure it does not come to a screeching halt because of one significant ethical lapse.

Thinking about these issues now and implementing our recommendations in a way that is compatible with your institution or agency can prevent that from happening.

Next, the Bioethics Commission is considering the implications of neuroscience research and its applications more broadly for our second report. We’re thinking about:

  • The ethical issues raised across stages of life – from infancy through old age,
  • And what neuroscience research might mean for various affected communities like those affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and mental illness.

These types of community engagement play a key role in our deliberations We expect to hold at least one additional public meeting – in November – before concluding our deliberations and making a final set of recommendations.

Since by now you’ve no doubt picked up our theme, that ethics integration – early and throughout research – prevents intervention, I will close simply by saying that, on behalf of the 11 Members of the Bioethics Commission, we are delighted to be a part of this initiative – from its very beginning.

Thank you.

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Neuroscience and Ethics: Integration Not Intervention https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/09/30/neuroscience-and-ethics-integration-not-intervention-2/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/09/30/neuroscience-and-ethics-integration-not-intervention-2/#respond Tue, 30 Sep 2014 19:35:22 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=1431 We’re pleased to take part in today’s White House BRAIN Conference. Check out our infographic that highlights our recommendations from Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society, the first of two reports on neuroscience and related ethical issues.

bioethics_integration

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Just Published Hastings Center Report Highlights “Teaching Bioethics” https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/09/17/just-published-hastings-center-report-highlights-teaching-bioethics/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/09/17/just-published-hastings-center-report-highlights-teaching-bioethics/#respond Wed, 17 Sep 2014 20:13:52 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=1416 (This post also appears on Bioethics Forum.)

The topic “teaching bioethics” is highlighted and explored in the newly published issue of the Hastings Center Report, which contains a set of essays developed collaboratively by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues and The Hastings Center. The set’s introductory essay acknowledges that basic bioethics literacy and training lag. But what are the best educational practices to prepare our scientists, health care providers – even those of us who are not in science or healthcare – who will most assuredly wrestle with bioethical issues at some point in our careers or our family lives?

The Bioethics Commission has made several recommendations since 2010 to improve bioethics education in the science and health professions, and The Hastings Center has also made bioethics education one of its strategic priorities. The collection of papers in the Sept.-Oct. issue of the Report and to be published across several future issues highlights the current status of best practices in bioethics education, describes the gaps that exist, and suggests approaches to fill them. Mildred Solomon, EdD, president and CEO of The Hastings Center, and Lisa M. Lee, PhD, MS, executive director of the Bioethics Commission, served as guest editors for the issue.

Last fall, the Bioethics Commission and the Center invited papers on several broad topics including: assessing the state of bioethics education (What work has been done? How do we evaluate it? What are potential measures? What is the research agenda?); incorporating professional, clinical, research, and public health ethics education into medical and STEM education at secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels; methods for bioethics instruction (casuistry, decision-making frameworks, pedagogical innovations, interpreting the role of history); and best practices in bioethics education.

We encouraged manuscripts from individuals teaching in traditional and nontraditional settings and we received more than 80 manuscripts. With such an impressive response and with the need to stimulate work in this area so great, we are pleased that this Sept.-Oct. set of papers is just the beginning. The Report will publish a bioethics education essay in each of its issues throughout 2015.

“The papers… are meant to serve as a starting point for further reflection, writing, and debate,” Lee, Solomon, and Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Bioethics Commission, wrote in the set’s introductory essay.

To keep this conversation going Solomon and Lee will also offer a special session at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities 16th Annual Meeting in San Diego on Friday October 17: “Bioethics Literacy Across the Lifespan.” They will describe transformative learning as an approach to ethics education in science technology, engineering, and mathematics and outline research needs for the development of evidence-based pedagogy.

“Developing and sharing a body of literature on best practices of teaching bioethics, and continuing the conversation at key conferences are two important steps in developing a community of practice. Ideally there will someday exist an online forum in which traditional and nontraditional educators across disciplines can share best practices, course materials, and other helpful information with one another,” Lee said.

In addition to working with The Hastings Center to produce this set of essays, the bioethics commission has committed to developing its own set of pedagogical materials, based on its contemporary analysis and its reports, to further support bioethics education. The materials can be found at www.bioethics.gov/education.

Comments on the set of essays in the Report, thoughts on the need for bioethics literacy, or feedback about the Bioethics Commission’s pedagogical materials are welcome at education@bioethics.gov.

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What is Democratic Deliberation? A Q&A with Bioethics Commission Chair Amy Gutmann https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/09/10/what-is-democratic-deliberation-a-qa-with-bioethics-commission-chair-amy-gutmann/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/09/10/what-is-democratic-deliberation-a-qa-with-bioethics-commission-chair-amy-gutmann/#respond Wed, 10 Sep 2014 16:46:11 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=1410 Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission), has written eloquently about the idea of democratic deliberation. We asked her to explain this principle and discuss how it has influenced the work of the Bioethics Commission.

Blog.Bioethics.gov (B.B.G): What is democratic deliberation?

Amy Gutmann (A.G.): The best any democracy can do in the face of disagreement on complex issues is to have deliberation among a wide range of experts and involved citizens in a way that is transparent to the public. Open and robust dialogue is at the very heart of deliberative democracy, and I’ve worked hard to imbue the work of the Bioethics Commission with that principle.

Deliberative democracy is the opposite of sound-bite democracy. Democracies do better when people discuss – robustly and respectfully argue about – their differences. It’s the give-and-take of viewpoints with an aim of finding common ground and reaching mutual respect among citizens where that common ground is not possible. The common good of democracy includes living respectfully with our differences, while continually aspiring to create a society–and world–that is just for all.

B.B.G.: What is the purpose of the Bioethics Commission and how does democratic deliberation play a role?

A.G.: First and foremost, the Bioethics Commission is here to provide advice and guidance to President Obama to help him and his administration navigate the challenging questions that arise in our evolving and very complex era of biomedicine. Advances in biomedical research and related areas of science and technology can often create a range of ethical dilemmas. The Bioethics Commission seeks to identify and promote policies and practices that ensure that scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in a socially and ethically responsible manner.

Good policy is based on good advice. The Bioethics Commission’s job is to offer practical public policy advice grounded in scientific evidence and in debate on philosophical and ethical principles. The best advice we can give comes from respectful deliberation based on the best evidence available after a thorough review of the ethical implications. The Commission’s work is fully transparent and is conducted in public in a manner in which experts and members of the public can engage in high level and productive discussion.

B.B.G.: There are many ethical principles on which to ground the Bioethics Commission, why democratic deliberation?

A.G.: My commitment to learning, to service, and to open and respectful deliberation is in many ways an homage to my parents. My mother was a natural teacher, but she had no choice but to put her dream on hold–since she could not afford a college education and had to support her family during the Great Depression. My father escaped Hitler’s Germany in 1934, and also saved the lives of his family by urging and enabling them to join him shortly thereafter in India.

My parents were extraordinary people with great values, foresight, generosity, and courage, who had a powerful faith in America as the land of opportunity.

I bring those values and their example to bear at the Bioethics Commission. And I believe that it has served us well. From synthetic biology to reviewing the ethical considerations of conducting clinical trials of medical countermeasures with children we have tackled some incredibly complex issues. It is a challenge that we embrace and the democratically deliberative process is key to finding common ground and an ethically sound path forward.

B.B.G.: Can you say a little about how the Commission balances a commitment to transparency and the need for a free exchange of ideas among its members that may be more likely to occur in a non-public setting?

A.G.: All deliberations of the Bioethics Commission occur at our public meetings. Some subcommittee work is done before those public meetings, but the subcommittees must present and report to the Commission as a whole and the Commission as a whole must discuss those findings before any recommendations can be deliberated.

B.B.G.: How do you think the Commission is doing as a deliberative body and what role can an “advisory commission” have in deliberative democracy?

A.G.: The Bioethics Commission Members need not – and do not – all agree on everything all of the time.  Instead, we clearly identify critically important ethical and scientific issues and we reach consensus on what advice to offer on how to navigate these issues of public importance.  On this advice, the Bioethics Commission has consistently reached consensus through our public deliberations.

 

 

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Celebrating a Social Media Milestone: 1,000 Followers on Twitter! #Publicbioethics https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/08/27/celebrating-a-social-media-milestone-1000-followers-on-twitter-publicbioethics/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/08/27/celebrating-a-social-media-milestone-1000-followers-on-twitter-publicbioethics/#respond Wed, 27 Aug 2014 14:30:17 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=1400 The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has just reached 1,000 followers on Twitter. This social media milestone is the perfect opportunity to take a moment and thank all of you who follow us (@Bioethicsgov), read our blog (blog.bioethics.gov), take part in our webinars (Bioethicsgov) access and use our educational materials (bioethics.gov/education), attend our meetings, provide comments on any of our projects, and otherwise engage with us in what Edmund Pellegrino called “doing ethics in the public square.”

Advances in biomedical research and related areas of science and technology can create a range of ethical dilemmas, and the President established our commission to advise him and his administration as the country navigates the challenging questions that arise. For example: Can the U.S. government ethically conduct pediatric research on medical countermeasures, like an anthrax vaccine? Our nation must protect children enrolled in research studies while also doing its best to develop the knowledge needed to save children’s lives during a possible emergency. Another example: How do we protect individual privacy but share highly personal genomic and neuroscientific data widely enough in order to make important scientific progress?

The Bioethics Commission seeks to identify and promote policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in a socially and ethically responsible manner. We report to the President, but our work is not for the President’s eyes only – far from it. We are fully transparent and conduct our meetings and deliberations in public. In so doing, we help educate the nation on bioethical issues. But that is just part of how we engage in public bioethics.

To engage the community, our public meetings are held at various sites nationwide, webcast live, and bring our members and a wide variety of subject-matter experts together for information sharing and open deliberation. These sessions play an integral role in shaping our final reports and recommendations.

Comments from the public also play an important role in our deliberations. Through the Federal Register we call for comments related to each of our projects; and we encourage comments at any time through info@bioethics.gov. All comments are reviewed and logged, including those written and submitted during each of our public meetings; they are just part of a process that ensures a variety of perspectives are included during our deliberations.

Social media, such as Twitter, seemed a natural next step as we continue to explore what public bioethics is and can become. This commission is proud to be the first U.S. Bioethics Commission to engage the public via Twitter. For more about how this commission works, we hope you will watch this video.

And thanks again for following us on Twitter! Proud to be 1,000 strong.

 

 

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Deep Dive Today into Ethical Implications of Neuroscience Research and its Applications https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/08/20/deep-dive-today-into-ethical-implications-of-neuroscience-research-and-its-applications/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/08/20/deep-dive-today-into-ethical-implications-of-neuroscience-research-and-its-applications/#respond Wed, 20 Aug 2014 13:09:48 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=1375 Today the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) dives into several of the complex ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and its applications.  Today’s agenda includes sessions on cognitive enhancement, direct-to-consumer neurotechnology, clinical innovation through neuroscience research, and capacity to consent research.

President Obama requested that the Bioethics Commission review the ethical considerations of neuroscience research and its application as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Specifically he asked the Commission to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.”

This spring, the Bioethics Commission released the first volume of its two volume report it plans in response to the President’s charge: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 1). In it the Bioethics Commission recommended integrating ethics explicitly and systematically into neuroscience research across the life of a research endeavor.

In Vol. 2 the Bioethics Commission will consider the ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and its applications more broadly. The Commission will examine implications that scientists, ethicists, educators, private funders, and the public should be prepared to handle, such as the four topics under consideration today.

“Through our discussions and deliberations to date, we have focused on several specific topics – both because of their heightened relief in the neuroscience context and because of the complex ethical issues that they raise.  We will explore a number of those topics in more depth today,” said Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Bioethics Commission, as she opened the Commission’s public meeting today.

Throughout the day the Bioethics Commission will hear from experts including: Peter Reiner, V.M.D., Ph.D., University of British Columbia; Rear Admiral Peter J. Delany, Ph.D., LCSW-C, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Adrian Raine, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania; Nick Bostrom, Ph.D., University of Oxford; John Reppas, M.D., Ph.D., Neurotechnology Industry Organization; Carlos Peña, Ph.D., M.S., U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Freddie Ann Hoffman, M.D., formerly of U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Deven McGraw, J.D., M.P.H., LL.M., Healthcare practice of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP; Steven L. Small, Ph.D., M.D., University of California, Irvine; Paul J. Ford, Ph.D., Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University; Helen Mayberg, M.D., Emory University School of Medicine; Jerry Menikoff, M.D., J.D., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Paul S. Appelbaum, M.D., Columbia University.

The Bioethics Commission has held six previous public meetings on neuroscience and, in addition to today’s meeting in Washington, has at least one more meeting to address the topic scheduled for November. The Bioethics Commission’s process is well underway toward developing recommendations to fully respond to the President’s request.

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Bioethics Commission Continues Discussion about Neuroscience and Ethics https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/06/09/bioethics-commission-continues-discussion-about-neuroscience-and-ethics/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2014/06/09/bioethics-commission-continues-discussion-about-neuroscience-and-ethics/#respond Mon, 09 Jun 2014 13:15:49 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=1317 Contemporary neuroscience has begun to make important breakthroughs, and given the complexity of the brain, scientists recognize we must better understand the brain in order to make desired progress.  As researchers learn about the brain and its relation to the mind, fundamental questions arise about what makes us human.  Accompanying ethical considerations must be addressed.

That is why President Obama requested that the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) review the ethical considerations of neuroscience research and its application as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Last month, the Bioethics Commission released the first of two reports in response to this charge: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society.  In that report the Bioethics Commission recommended integrating ethics explicitly and systematically into neuroscience research across the life of a research endeavor.

During this meeting in Atlanta the Bioethics Commission will continue its work in response to President Obama’s charge. It will consider the ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and its applications more broadly.  The Commission will examine implications that scientists, ethicists, educators, private funders, and the public should be prepared to handle.

“A strongly integrated research and ethics infrastructure—as recommended in our recent report—will be well equipped to address these ethical implications,” said Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Bioethics Commission, as she opened the Commission’s public meeting.

Over the next two days the Bioethics Commission will hear from experts on topics including neuroscience research across life stages – from infancy through old age; data sharing and access in neuroscience; the potential neuroscience research holds for us all, particularly for affected communities like those diagnosed with or at risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or mental illness, for example.

The President asked the Bioethics Commission to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.”

The Bioethics Commission has held five previous public meetings on the topic and, in addition to this meeting in Atlanta, has at least one more meeting scheduled for August. The Bioethics Commission’s process is well underway toward developing recommendations to respond to the second part of the President’s request.

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Call for Papers https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2013/09/30/call-for-papers/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2013/09/30/call-for-papers/#respond Mon, 30 Sep 2013 18:27:34 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=966 Special Issue of the Hastings Center Report on Teaching Bioethics
Deadline for submission: March 10, 2014

The Hastings Center Report and the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues are planning a special issue to address current themes in bioethics education. Guest editors include Mildred Solomon, president and CEO of The Hastings Center, and Lisa M. Lee, executive director of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical
Issues.

We invite papers on the following broad topics:
• assessing the state of bioethics education (What work has been done? How do we assess? What are potential measures? What is the research agenda?);
• incorporating professional, clinical, research, and public health ethics education into medical and STEM education at secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels;
• methods for bioethics instruction (casuistry, decision-making frameworks, pedagogical innovations, interpreting the role of history, etc.); and
• best practices in bioethics education.

We encourage manuscripts from individuals teaching in traditional and nontraditional settings with traditional as well as nontraditional students. All manuscripts will be subject to the standard peer review process by the Hastings Center Report editor and peer reviewers.

Submission: Manuscripts should be submitted by email. Please submit electronic copies in either *.rtf (rich text format) or *.doc (MS Word document format) to editorial@thehastingscenter.org. Specify that the manuscript is being submitted to the “Teaching Bioethics Special Report” of the Hastings Center Report. Name(s) and contact information for the author(s) should appear only on an accompanying cover sheet. Include a mailing address, telephone and fax numbers, and an email address. In addition to this cover sheet, all manuscripts submitted for consideration should be accompanied by an abstract of no more than 150 words, four to six key words for indexing purposes, and for each author, a signed conflict of interest form, which is available on the Hastings Center Report’s website.

Submission guidelines, also online, give formatting instructions for essays. The deadline for submission is Monday, March 10, 2014.

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Bioethics Commission Joins Twitter https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2013/09/19/bioethics-commission-joins-twitter/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2013/09/19/bioethics-commission-joins-twitter/#respond Thu, 19 Sep 2013 14:23:12 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=947 As part of its efforts to engage and educate the public about pressing bioethical issues, The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (the Bioethics Commission) is pleased to announce that it has joined Twitter.

Follow the Bioethics Commission @bioethicsgov

How is the Bioethics Commission using Twitter?

The Bioethics Commission will be posting news and announcements, alerting followers to new reports and education materials, and sharing highlights from public meetings.

Public comments should continue to be submitted to the Bioethics Commission by mail or by emailing info@bioethics.gov. Read the comment policy for more information.

Advances in medicine, science and technology bring with them ethical challenges that have implications for individuals and society at large. The Bioethics Commission is charged with identifying policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in a socially and ethically responsible manner. The Bioethics Commission looks forward to sharing that work with you on Twitter.

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Member Spotlight: Amy Gutmann https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2013/08/15/member-spotlight-amy-gutmann-2/ https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/2013/08/15/member-spotlight-amy-gutmann-2/#respond Thu, 15 Aug 2013 20:00:37 +0000 https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/pcsbi/blog/?p=816 amy-gutmann_portraitThe Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission), Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., is the eighth president of the University of Pennsylvania.  She leads Penn’s 12 schools and its Health System, including the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, overseeing a $6.4 billion annual budget.  This includes more than 21,000 full-time undergraduate and graduate students, and nearly 33,000 faculty and staff.  So when President Barack Obama asked Gutmann if she would volunteer her time to chair a commission that tackles complex, high profile, and often controversial issues, she could have respectfully declined due to lack of enough hours in the day. True to form, she did no such thing.

“The President was asking me to serve,” Gutmann said.  “Plus the request hit the sweet spot of my scholarly and professional interests.”

A political philosopher and scholar of ethics and public policy, Gutmann is keenly interested in deliberating the often complicated issues that arise at the convergence of health care, science, and technology.  Before becoming President of Penn in 2004, Gutmann served in a variety of successive roles at Princeton University, including dean of faulty, academic advisor to the president, and, ultimately, as provost, and held visiting appointments at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the University of Maryland’s Center for Philosophy and Public Policy. At Princeton, she founded and directed the University Center for Human Values, a leading forum for the deliberation of ethical issues and human values.

“The best any democracy can do in the face of disagreement on complex issues is to have deliberation among a wide range of experts and involved citizens in a way that is transparent to the public,” Gutmann said.  Open and robust dialogue is at the very heart of deliberative democracy, a principle Gutmann has championed throughout her academic career, both in the books and articles she authors and in practice at Penn. Now, she has imbued the work of the Bioethics Commission with that principle.

“Deliberative democracy is the opposite of sound-bite democracy,” Gutmann said.  “Democracies do better when people discuss – robustly and respectfully argue about – their differences.  It’s the give-and-take of viewpoints with an aim of finding common ground and reaching mutual respect among citizens where that common ground is not possible. The common good of democracy includes living respectfully with our differences, while continually aspiring to create a society–and world–with liberty and justice for all.”

Gutmann’s commitment to learning, to service, and to open and respectful deliberation is in many profound ways an homage to her parents.  Her mother was a natural teacher, but she had no choice but to put that dream on hold–since she could not afford a college education and had to support her family during the Great Depression.  Gutmann’s father escaped Hitler’s Germany in 1934, and also saved the lives of his entire family by urging and enabling them to join him shortly thereafter in India.   “They were extraordinary people with great values, foresight, generosity, and courage, who had a powerful faith in America as the land of opportunity,” Gutmann said.

Gutmann has brought those values to bear through her leadership of the Bioethics Commission.  To date the Commission has:

  • advised the White House on the benefits and risks of synthetic biology;
  • completed an independent ethical analysis of the U.S. Public Health Service STD experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s;
  • assessed the rules that currently protect participants in research;
  • examined the pressing privacy concerns raised by the emergence of low-cost whole genome sequencing; and
  • completed a thorough review of the ethical considerations of conducting clinical trials of medical countermeasures with children, including the ethical considerations involved in pediatric anthrax vaccine research.

These are incredibly complex issues.  Gutmann relishes the challenge and embraces the democratically deliberative process as key to finding common ground and an ethically sound path forward.

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