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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Field Notes

When Dan Callahan and Will Gaylin began The Hastings Center, they saw and sought to study the unseen. They were among the very first to recognize that remarkable advances in biomedical technology were generating questions our society had never before faced. As I take the helm of The Hastings Center forty-plus years later, it's now my job to be sure we see, name, grapple with, and act on today's questions. Over the next two years, the Center will engage its scholars, our Fellows, other bioethicists, scientists, social science and humanities scholars, health care policy-makers, and key stakeholders such as journalists, educators, and patients in defining today's set of critical questions.


Field Notes

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Field Notes

When Dan Callahan and Will Gaylin began The Hastings Center, they saw and sought to study the unseen. They were among the very first to recognize that remarkable advances in biomedical technology were generating questions our society had never before faced. As I take the helm of The Hastings Center forty-plus years later, it's now my job to be sure we see, name, grapple with, and act on today's questions. Over the next two years, the Center will engage its scholars, our Fellows, other bioethicists, scientists, social science and humanities scholars, health care policy-makers, and key stakeholders such as journalists, educators, and patients in defi ning today's set of critical questions.

Surely, we still need to focus on the impact of emerging biomedical technologies. Both The Hastings Center and our field as a whole will have essential insights to offer regarding synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and emerging knowledge from neuroscience and cognitive science. We will also continue to offer guidance about health care decision-making (with, for example, the upcoming publication of The Hastings Center's new Guidelines for Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and Care Near the End of Life, scheduled for release this winter), about genetic testing and personalized medicine, about the medicalization of normal behaviors (especially in pediatrics), and about the protection of human research participants in the United States and around the world.

But the explorations the Center will launch this year will also take us to new places, as well as to familiar places where the field must do more. How, in an age of growing and dramatic income disparity, can bioethics contribute to issues of justice? How can it do that at a time of political polarization equaled in ferocity perhaps only by the period just before the Civil War?

And how can bioethicists contribute to the rapidly changing ways in which health care is going to be financed in this country? Constitutional challenges notwithstanding, the Affordable Care Act has prompted a major round of payment reform: payers, health care systems, and others are experimenting with ways to incentivize savings, attempting to move us away from a system based on volume to one based on value. These attempts are highly laudable but also unproven, with unknown consequences. Most bioethicists are unaware of these changes, and only a few have been at the table.

Another critical issue is the relationship between humans and the natural world. The absence of ecologists and environmental scientists at many biomedical and ethics meetings is striking. Can we really talk about safety without broadening our concepts of who should be at the table? More fundamentally, what do humans owe other animals? And what are our obligations to the next generation to ensure food, water, and a sustainable planet?

Seeking answers to new questions will demand sharing those analyses with broader audiences. That was the impulse behind the Center's collaboration with WGBH in Boston as we coproduced the NOVA film “Cracking Your Genetic Code.” Indeed, at a time of growing dogmatism, bioethicists have a crucial role to play in ensuring reasoned, nonpartisan deliberation.

These are huge twenty-first century challenges that no one institution can address on its own. The Hastings Center commits to doing its part. We also pledge to engage with others. Together, we can look at these issues and at other questions of equal societal and global importance that will undoubtedly emerge as we seek them.