Technology – 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 Ethically Sound Episode 10: Charting a Path Forward Mon, 21 Nov 2016 16:00:01 +0000 The tenth and final episode of the Bioethics Commission’s podcast series, Ethically Sound, is now available. Today’s episode, “Charting a Path previewscreensnapz001Forward,” focuses on the Bioethics Commission’s two most recent public meetings, during which the Bioethics Commission reflected on the impact of past, present, and future of national bioethics advisory bodies.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. has had a succession of national advisory bodies to provide Congress or the President with expert advice on topics related to bioethics. Other countries also benefit from advisory bodies that provide advice about bioethi
cal issues. During its twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth public meetings, the Bioethics Commission heard
from members of past bioethics advisory bodies, representatives of international bioethics bodies, as well as officials who have been advised by such bodies.

The podcast opens with a narrative from Alex Capron, Professor of Law and Medicine at the University of Southern California. Mr. Capron chaired the Biomedical Ethics Advisory Committee from 1987 to 1990, and served on President William J. Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Body from 1996 to 2001. Mr. Capron presented before the commission during Meeting 26, and reflected on his experiences with both of these advisory bodies. In the podcast, Mr. Capron recounts a challenging experience he faced while describing the disciplinary backgrounds of bioethics advisory body staff to policymakers unfamiliar with the interdisciplinary nature of bioethics.

The podcast also includes an interview with Bioethics Commission member Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, Kilbride-Clinton Chair in Medicine and Ethics at the University of Chicago. The interview was conducted by Hillary Wicai Viers, a former Communications Director with the Bioethics Commission staff. Dr. Sulmasy discussed the importance of looking to past commissions, the legacy of the current Bioethics Commission, and the pressing ethical issues that we could face in the future. Regarding the importance of looking to past bioethics commissions, Dr. Sulmasy said “The past is applicable because many of the most basic ethical questions are perennial. We may encounter new problems, but the most fundamental questions about human finitude, the meaning of human progress, the role of balancing relief of suffering versus other ethical principles, questions of cost, and justice are always with us.”

Episode 10, and all of the other Ethically Sound episodes, is now available on our website, as well as on our SoundCloud, YouTube and iTunes pages. Listeners can follow the podcast using #EthicallySound or by following us on Twitter @bioethicsgov. Stay tuned for our upcoming educational resource, a set of discussion questions to accompany the Ethically Sound series that can be used in a classroom or seminar setting. We welcome comments and feedback at

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Ethically Sound Episode 6: New Directions Mon, 17 Oct 2016 15:00:43 +0000 The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues bioethics_twitter-v3-08(Bioethics Commission) has
released the sixth episode, “New Directions“, in its new
podcast series Ethically Sound.  This podcast series is dedicated to bringing the Bioethics Commission’s body of work to a broad audience. The Bioethics Commission, established in 2009 by President Bara
ck Obama, has produced 10 reports, each of which focuses on key ethical considerations surrounding a particular topic. Today’s episode is based on the Bioethics Commission’s first report, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies.

New Directions was written in response to a charge from President Obama, after the announcement that researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute had created the world’s first self-replicating synthetic genome in a bacterial cell. This news resulted in intense media coverage and hyped claims about the implications of this research. President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to review the developing field of synthetic biology and to identify appropriate ethical boundaries that would both maximize public benefits and minimize risks. The Bioethics Commission considered a diverse range of perspectives on the direction and implications of synthetic biology throughout its public deliberations. Taking into consideration both the tremendous promise and the potential risks that could arise from developments in synthetic biology, the commission put forth 18 recommendations that outline important ethical considerations for synthetic biology. The recommendations include a call for increased federal oversight of research in synthetic biology, and a recommendation for incorporating ethics training for researchers in fields such as engineering and materials science, who might become involved in synthetic biology research.

The podcast opens with a narrative from Eleonore Pauwels, Senior Program Associate within the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Ms. Pauwels shared her reaction to the announcement from the Venter Institute, and her perspective on how ethical issues would need to be addressed in this emerging technology. She said, “Today we still face an unresolved question: How do we develop a culture of inclusive public deliberation and decision-making that could guide integration of synthetic biology and all new technologies into society?”

The podcast also includes an interview with the Vice Chair of the Bioethics Commission and former President of Emory University, Dr. James Wagner. Hillary Wicai Viers, former Communications Director with the Bioethics Commission staff, conducted the interview. Dr. Wagner discussed the relevance of the commission’s report for current and future developments in synthetic biology, and how this first report set the tone for the rest of the commission’s body of work. Dr. Wagner noted that the ethical principles established in this report were foundational to subsequent projects, as well. He said, “We found ourselves in subsequent reports also recommending that there needs to be greater education in the area of bioethics, and education of our public to understand the current state of the art. We found ourselves coming back to those [ethical principles] over and over again in subsequent works that we did, whether it was work in neuroscience or work in genome sequencing.”

Episode 6 is now available on our website, as well as on our SoundCloud, YouTube and iTunes pages. In addition to this episode, listeners can access the first five episodes of Ethically Sound. Listeners can follow the podcast using the hashtag #EthicallySound or by following us on Twitter @bioethicsgov. Stay tuned for the seventh episode in our series, “Moral Science,” which will be available on October 24, 2016. We welcome comments and feedback at

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Introducing New Primer Series: Spotting and Responding to Hype Wed, 03 Aug 2016 12:00:28 +0000 The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has released a new series of primers on spotting and responding to science hype in the media. The three primers cover hype related to topics in new technology, public health and neuroscience. The primers introduce hype about scientific topics in the media, and provide users with ways to spot hype and evaluate scientific claims in media outlets. The primers draw on topics covered in three of the Commission’s reports: New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies, Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response, and Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society.

The primers are designed to help members of the public spot and respond to hyped claims in the media, which can often distort, exaggerate or misrepresent scientific information. The primers note that hype is generated from numerous sources, including scientists, communication and public relations professionals, and journalists. Each primer provides users with steps to spot hype as well as respond to hype when they counter such claims in news stories and blog posts. The primers also include examples of hyped claims that were found in news outlets.

The Commission has discussed hype in a number of its reports. In New Directions, the Commission recommended that individuals and deliberative forums should use clear language when communicating scientific information and avoid “sensationalist buzzwords” when describing topics in synthetic biology. The Commission also called for a private organization to fact-check claims that discuss advances in synthetic biology. In Ethics and Ebola, the Commission recommended that governments and public health organizations use the best available scientific evidence to inform decisions about using liberty-restricting measures (e.g., quarantines) and avoid bending to public pressure to inappropriately implement such measures. In Gray Matters, the Commission recommended that neuroscientists, attorneys, judges and members of the media avoid using or engaging with hype in relation to using neuroscience in the courtroom, noting that justice is threatened when unfounded neuroscience is used to make decisions in a courtroom.

This set of primers is the most recent addition to our “Conversation Series” collections of primers. Interested individuals can access our other “Conversation Series,” which discusses discussing incidental findings for consumers, research participants and patients. Users can also find informational primers about incidental findings and consent capacity.

Please stay tuned for information about forthcoming educational materials, including a classroom discussion guide and a deliberative scenario about incidental findings based on the Commission’s report Anticipate and Communicate: Ethical Management of Incidental and Secondary Findings in the Clinical, Research, and Direct-to-Consumer Contexts.

All Bioethics Commission educational materials are free and available for download at The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at

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