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05/03/2016

Additional Reflections on National Bioethics Advisory Bodies

The Bioethics Commission continued its discussion on the impact of bioethics advisory bodies, looking to the past to inform future efforts to address social and ethical dimensions of health, science, and technology policy.

In the second panel of the day, the Bioethics Commission heard from a variety of speakers considering the past, present, and future impact of such groups. Presenters included Tom L. Beauchamp, Professor of Philosophy at the Georgetown University Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Ruth Faden, Director of Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. In addition, the commission heard from Manuel Ruiz de Chávez, President of the Mexico National Commission of Bioethics (CONBIOÉTICA) and Patricia King, Professor of Law, Medicine, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown Law.

Beauchamp shared insights gleaned from his time on the staff of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (National Commission) where he contributed to the delineation of foundational principles for research ethics in the Belmont Report. He discussed the enduring impact of the Belmont Report both in the United States and abroad, while acknowledging its limitations and reflecting on what national bioethics bodies should focus on in the future.

Faden spoke of her experience as chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE). She described ACHRE’s charge and the nature of the issue that it was facing under the Clinton administration. Faden emphasized the power that a presidential commission has, serving as a “public pulpit to make a tremendous difference.”

Ruiz de Chávez talked about the importance of promoting the message of bioethics to the public, and the role that national bodies can serve in fulfilling that mission. He discussed the importance of an interdisciplinary commission and staff to advise executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

King reflected on her experience to two U.S. bioethics committees, as a member of the National Commission and ACHRE. She discussed what made the National Commission successful, including the fact that the federal government was required to respond to each of their recommendations, even if they did not take them up, and the fact that they convened at least once a month for over four years. She also discussed some of the features of the commission that she felt could have been improved, including a lack of sufficient disciplinary diversity, and what the members learned from the challenges that they faced during their tenure.

Stay tuned as panelists from the morning’s session return for a roundtable discussion with the Bioethics Commission.

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