George J. Annas, of Boston University, is one of America’s best-known bioethicists. In this BioEdge exclusive interview, he answers questions about his latest book, Worst Case Bioethics: Death, Disaster and Public Health.
BioEdge: What do you think of Obama’s new Bioethics Commission?
GJA: I thought that the Bush Bioethics Commission was so politicized and embryo-centric that it undermined any good that could come from a government-sponsored bioethics panel. I think this experience counseled us to place any future federal bioethics panel outside of government altogether. Obama, however, has decided to up the political ante by making his own Bioethics Commission openly and explicitly political. He did this primarily by appointing a political scientist to chair it, putting members of his administration (including the Department of Homeland Security) on it, appointing only three members who could be considered bioethicists to it, and placing it firmly in the arms of the Department of Health and Human Services.
It is, in short, not a bioethics panel at all, but a governmental science policy advisory group, and at least its title should be changed to reflect this reality. It’s not a worst case scenario, but it is, sadly, a missed opportunity to depoliticize bioethics commissions. Especially sad, I think, because our country desperately needs independent expert bioethics analysis to move us beyond “death panel,” abortion, and conscience clause political rhetoric to issues of fairness, equity, and patient rights in what will be a long and hard-fought implementation and modification process for our new health insurance reform program.
Read the entire interview here.