What's the Use? Disparate Purposes of U.S. Federal Bioethics Commissions

Jenny Dyck Brian, Robert Cook-Deegan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Scopus citations


    In the forty-year history of U.S. bioethics commissions, these government-sanctioned forums have often demonstrated their power to address pressing problems and to enable policy change. For example, the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, established in 1974, left a legacy of reports that were translated into regulations and had an enormous practical impact. And the 1982 report Splicing Life, by the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research, became the basis for the National Institutes of Health's Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee as well as for the Food and Drug Administration's developing “Points to Consider” when contemplating the introduction of recombinant DNA into human beings. Some efforts of bioethics commissions, however, are not tightly connected to policy change or to outcomes directly linked to a specific report. While direct policy impact is indeed a useful metric for government bioethics commissions, it is not their only legitimate utility. For instance, bioethics commissions can also be incubators for deliberation on a hot topic, giving policy-makers time to think through options while the political heat has some time to dissipate. Or a bioethics commission may stake out a position that enables a politician to take action while not necessarily following its recommendations.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)S14-S16
    JournalHastings Center Report
    StatePublished - May 1 2017

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health(social science)
    • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
    • Philosophy
    • Health Policy


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