Obama sets up new bioethics commission

A political scientist and a materials engineer will lead the new Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. President Barack Obama announced this week that Amy Gutman,  president of the University of Pennsylvania, and James W. Wagner, president of Emory University, in Georgia, are to be the chair and vice-chair of the Commission.

President Obama said, “As our nation invests in science and innovation and pursues advances in biomedical research and health care, it’s imperative that we do so in a responsible manner. This new Commission will develop its recommendations through practical and policy-related analyses.”

As expected, these appointments suggest that the new commission will be more a policy-making body than a graduate seminar in bioethics, as its counterpart was in the Bush Administration. According to the White House press release, its goal will be “identifying and promoting policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner”.

The commission will have 13 members, 5 fewer than the previous bioethics commission. The other 11 will be announced later.

The commission's brief seems to focus on the intersection of technology and human dignity. According to the Science Progress blog, it is entrusted with studying “the creation of stem cells by novel means; intellectual property issues involving genetic sequencing, biomarkers, and other screening tests used for risk assessment; and the application of neuro- and robotic sciences… the protection of human research participants; scientific integrity and conflicts of interest in research; and the intersection of science and human rights.”

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