7 December 2009
Appeared in BioNews 537This week it was announced that five months after dissolving the bioethics advisory council established by George W Bush, US President Barack Obama has put into place a new bioethics council. While it was thought that the previous council was focused mainly on issues regarding human embryo research and the connected moral concerns, the new committee will have a far broader scope, being involved in shaping and recommending policy implementation, regulation and legislative action.
Barak Obama has also implemented other changes regarding how the committee will run. Rather than appointing bioethicists to lead the commission, the president has broken tradition and appointed Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, to chair the commission and James Wagner, president of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia as vice chair.
Ruth Faden, executive director of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, said of the structure of the commission: 'The appointments of Gutmann and Wagner reinforce the expectation that this commission will seek to provide practical, actionable guidance to the administration and the country'.
However, bioethicist George Annas of Boston University, Massachusetts questioned the level of independence that the commission will have from central government stating: 'Bioethics advisory commissions should be totally free-standing, and not linked to the government and presidential terms, in order to avoid doing 'Republican' or 'Democratic' bioethics'. The inclusion of up to three executive members of the government executive branch may raise more eyebrows.
The issues covered by the commission will range from bioethical debate to questions surrounding behavioural research, intellectual property and scientific integrity, which includes issues such as conflicts of interest in research. It has also been suggested that the commission should be tackling issues regarding fairer access to health care.