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Nobel Laureates

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July 16, 2002
Ethics and Politics of Stem Cell Research Topic of Marine Biological Laboratory Bioethics Lecture

Thomas H. Murray, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of The Hastings Center, a New York-based independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that explores fundamental ethical questions in health care, biotechnology, and the environment, will offer the Marine Biological Laboratory's (MBL's) Second Annual Bioethics Lecture on Wednesday, July 24 at 4:00 pm in the Lillie Auditorium, MBL Street, Woods Hole. The lecture, which is sponsored by Drs. Gerald and Ruth Fischbach, is free and open to the public.

The politics of stem cell research has nearly eclipsed the debate over the ethical issues it raises. Yet, in a curious way, the political furor and the odd alliances it has created can shed light on the underlying ethical debate. In his talk, titled "The Ethics (and Politics) of Stem Cell Research," Dr. Murray will describe the rapidly evolving politics of stem cell research, including President Bush's decision in August, 2001 to permit federal funding on a limited set of stem cell lines&Mac247;those created before his speech.

Dr. Murray will explore how the unusual alliances that have formed around what has been called therapeutic cloning illuminate many of the fundamental ethical considerations that shape public policy not only towards stem cells, cloning, and abortion, but also reproductive technologies and a number of non-biomedical issues. Those deeper ethical issues, Dr. Murray will explain, include the value placed on scientific research and scientific freedom, on human health and well-being, and on respecting human dignity, in addition to concerns about the prospects and perils of genetic manipulation and the commercialization of human gametes and embryos. At the heart of these disputes, Murray believes, are deep disagreements about what constitutes good lives for women and for men, and how sharply the two differ.

The ethics of stem cell research are deeply interconnected with a host of other fundamentally important ethical matters. Murray will describe those connections, and make clear their larger significance and implications for the future of science.

Dr. Murray was formerly the Director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was also the Susan E. Watson Professor of Bioethics. Dr. Murray's research interests cover a wide range of ethical issues in medicine and science, including genetics, children, organ donation, and health policy. He is a founding editor of the journal Medical Humanities Review, and is on the editorial boards of Human Gene Therapy, Politics and the Life Sciences, Cloning, Science, and Policy, Medscape General Medicine, and Teaching Ethics. He is also editor, with Maxwell J. Mehlman, of the Encyclopedia of Ethical, Legal and Policy Issues in Biotechnology, (John Wiley & Sons, 2000).

Dr. Murray served as a member of the US Olympic Committee's Anti-Doping Committee, is currently a member of the Ethics and Education Committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and served as a presidential appointee to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission from 1996 to 2001, where he served as chair of the subcommittee on genetics. Dr. Murray also served as a member of the Committee on Ethics of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and is former Chair of the Social Issues Committee of the American Society for Human Genetics.

Dr. Murray is currently a member of the Ethics Committee of HUGO, the Human Genome Organization. He is a past member and founder of the Working Group on Ethical, Legal and Social Issues to the National Institutes of Health Center for Human Genome Research, and chaired its Task Force on Genetics and Insurance. He served as co-chair of the Panel on NIH Research on Anti-Social, Aggressive and Violence-Related Behaviors and Their Consequences and was a member of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel as well as the NIH Director's Working Group on Oversight of Gene Therapy Research.

Dr. Murray is the Past President of the Society for Health and Human Values. From 1999 to 2000 he served as the President of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. Murray is currently a member of the AAMC Task Force on Conflicts of Interest as well as the Center for Strategic & International Studies' Council on Biotechnology Research, Innovation, and Public Policy. He also serves on the Advisory Committee for the Genomics Institute at the Wadsworth Center and is an Affiliated Scholar of the Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law at the University of Louisville. Dr. Murray has testified before Congressional committees, and is the author of more than 200 publications. His most recent books are The Worth of a Child, published by the University of California Press, and Healthcare Ethics and Human Values: An Introductory Text with Readings and Case Studies, Blackwell Publishers, which he edited with Bill Fulford and Donna Dickenson.

The Annual Bioethics Lecture was established in 2001 to offer an opportunity for a formal discussion of bioethical issues to reach a broad and diverse audience of scientists and concerned citizens. Because so many biologists, including M.D. and Ph.D. candidates, work and receive their training at the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL provides an excellent forum for addressing ethical dilemmas emerging in biomedicine. Students in MBL courses are especially encouraged to participate in this important seminar.