public bioethics – 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 The History of Bioethics Series – National Bioethics Commissions Wed, 27 Jan 2016 16:33:35 +0000 This is the first post in our “History of Bioethics” series in which we will examine some of the seminal events that shaped the landscape of bioethics and its practice in the world today. This first blog will focus on the creation of the national bioethics advisory bodies in the United States and their different iterations throughout the years.

From our History of Bioethics Commissions page…

The current advisory group, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, established by a 2009 Executive Order from President Barack Obama, continues the more than 40-year history of bodies established by the President or Congress to provide expert advice on topics related to bioethics. These groups have differed in their composition, methods, and areas of focus, yet they all have shared share a common goal – to promote the careful examination and analysis of ethical considerations that underlie our nation’s activities in science, medicine, and technology.

The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1974-78) is generally viewed as the first national bioethics commission. Established as part of the 1974 National Research Act, the National Commission is best known for the development of the Belmont Report, a document that laid out the ethical principles and guidelines for research involving human subjects. This document has been used as a basis for further federal regulations in the area of human subjects protections.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1978-83), also established by Congress, produced reports on foregoing life-sustaining treatment and access to health care, among other topics. Its 1981 report Defining Death was the basis of the Uniform Determination of Death Act, a model law that was enacted by most U.S. states.

The Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (1994-95) was created by President Bill Clinton to investigate human radiation experiments conducted from 1944 -1974 as well as radiation intentionally released into the environment for research purposes. The committee considered the ethical and scientific standards for evaluating these events and provided recommendations aimed at ensuring that similar events could not be repeated.

Since the mid-1990s, each of the past three presidents has established bioethics commissions to explore ethical issues in science, medicine, and technology. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission (1996-2001), created by President Clinton, examined topics including cloning, human stem cell research, and research involving human subjects. President George W. Bush established the President’s Council on Bioethics (2001-2009), which issued reports on stem cell research, human enhancement, and reproductive technologies, among other topics.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues was established in November 2009 and is chaired by Dr. Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania and renowned political philosopher and educator. The Bioethics Commission has dealt with topics ranging from neuroscience, to Ebola, to whole genome sequencing, and more. All of the Bioethics Commission’s reports can be viewed and downloaded for free at A major point of emphasis for the current Bioethics Commission is to educate and inform the nation about bioethics. So far, in its tenure, the Bioethics Commission has created and disseminated materials for a variety of audiences in traditional and non-traditional educational settings. To date over fifty education materials have been developed and are disseminated freely through the website.

Stay tuned to this blog for upcoming posts on the “History of Bioethics”!

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Bioethics Commission 201: The Functions of a U.S. Bioethics Commission – Advice, Not Enforcement Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:38:17 +0000 The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) advises the President as issues arise from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology. It 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. It is a source of expert analysis and advice, but the Bioethics Commission does not make or enforce policies or laws related to bioethics. While the Commission may offer, and has offered, advice to U.S. agencies on how to administer, review, or oversee federal grants, it does not provide or oversee any grants or accompanying program activities or direct funding priorities. Since 2009 the Bioethics Commission has provided guidance based on thorough ethical analysis for topics such as genomics, research with human subjects, incidental and secondary findings, and most recently neuroscience. In addition, the Bioethics Commission is committed to creating educational resources, such as modules and primers, to accompany its reports in order to further support bioethics education.

Its position as a presidential commission is supported by a directive from the President to federal agencies to help the Bioethics Commission as needed. The Executive Order establishing the Commission states: “All executive departments and agencies and all entities within the Executive Office of the President shall provide information and assistance to the Commission as the Chair may request for purposes of carrying out the Commission’s functions, to the extent permitted by law.”

The support of this directive was critical to the Bioethics Commission as it sought to answer President Obama’s question about whether current federal regulations adequately protect participants in federally supported scientific studies (Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research, 2011). The Commission quickly learned that there is no complete source of basic information, such as level of funding, number of studies or participants, or geographic location, about the government’s research involving human subjects. The Commission therefore requested that information from the 18 agencies that conduct most federal human subjects research. The Commission learned that many federal departments and agencies have no ready means to provide basic information about the research they fund.

As a result, the Bioethics Commission recommended that each department or agency that supports human subjects research should make publicly available a core set of data elements for their human subjects research projects through their own or a trans-agency database system. It also recommended that the Office for Human Research Protections or another designated central organizing agency should support and administer a central web-based portal linking to each departmental or agency system, thus increasing transparency and accountability in human subjects research.

Practical policy recommendations such as these, based on sound ethical principles, are what the Bioethics Commission strives to provide. Its recommendations are informed by empirical and conceptual research, public comment, and public meetings. The Commission is required to hold at least four public meetings a year; these meetings are held in various locations across the nation, and bring Commission Members and subject-matter experts together for presentations and deliberation. These sessions play an integral role in shaping the Bioethics Commission’s reports. Once a consensus among members has been reached, the Commission then publishes its analysis and ultimate recommendations in reports it shares with the President.

The Bioethics Commission is guided by a commitment to critically examine and explore diverse perspectives, and to engage and educate the public on bioethics issues to advance ethically responsible practices and policies. For more information on the Commission visit our website. All meeting webcasts and transcripts, final reports, and related educational materials are publicly available free of charge at Public meetings are webcast live and archived; the next public meeting will be held on Aug. 20in Washington, D.C.

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