Alumni event in Atlanta focuses on bioethics

 Penn President Amy Gutmann, chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Courtesy of Emory University

Penn President Amy Gutmann was joined by Emory University President James W. Wagner on Nov. 16 for Penn’s first-ever alumni event featuring two university presidents. The conversation, “Universities on the Leading Edge: Advancing Dialogue on Bioethics,” capped off a two-day meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, which Gutmann chairs in partnership with Wagner, who serves as vice-chair.

Gutmann and Wagner spoke to an audience of 275 alumni from the two universities as part of a panel hosted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Jonathan Moreno, the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor and professor of Medical Ethics and of History and Sociology of Science at Penn, and Kathy Kinlaw, associate director of the Center for Ethics at Emory, moderated the discussion. Topics included the importance of universities helping to advance ethical dialogue, and the role of bioethics in helping ensure the socially responsible advancement of research, healthcare delivery and technological innovation.

Gutmann and Wagner said that universities have a responsibility to lead debate on substantive issues of the day, allowing for disagreement and deliberation in an open forum. “Supporting ethics education and research across our campuses—in medicine and science, in law, in business and in numerous other programs—maximizes our ability to make progress on issues of global importance,“ said Gutmann.

Drawing a parallel to Penn and Emory’s strong support of ethics education and research, Wagner said that the President’s Commission is helping establish an ethical framework for a new technological era. “It might not be far from the truth to imagine the last century as a century focused on technologies of transportation, communications, computing and synthetic materials. We may now be in a century that one day will be called the bio-century,” he said.

During its Nov. 16-17 meetings on the Emory campus, the President’s Commission completed its public deliberation on the topic of synthetic biology, as charged by President Barack Obama. The Commission's 19 recommendations are organized around five core principles: Public Beneficence; Responsible Stewardship; Democratic Deliberation; Intellectual Freedom and Responsibility; and Justice and Fairness.

“Our task is to help the federal government and the public better understand and help maximize the potentially great benefits from synthetic biology. We’ll also determine how to minimize likely risks in light of what we now know,” Gutmann said at the meeting.

The recommendations will be submitted to President Obama in final form next month.


Originally published on November 18, 2010