Nita Farahany appointed to presidential Bioethics Commission

Jul 12, 2010

Nita Farahany, associate professor of law and philosophy at Vanderbilt University, has been appointed to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

At the Commission’s first meeting, held July 8-9 in Washington, D.C., members discussed synthetic biology, which involves creating biological materials entirely from synthetic ones. Commission members include scholars, government scientists and bioethicists.

View a portion of the proceedings

According to a statement issued by the White House, the Bioethics Commission’s role is to advise President Obama on legal, philosophical and social issues arising from developments in the biosciences and propose policies to ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner. “As our nation invests in science and innovation and pursues advances in biomedical research and health care, it’s imperative that we do so in a responsible manner,” President Obama said.

Professor Farahany is a leading expert on the intersection of law and science whose recent work examines the impact of developments related to behavioral genetics and neuroscience on philosophical and practical approaches to criminal and constitutional law. In her current research, she examines how emerging research in the biosciences informs agency and responsibility theory, and challenges existing doctrines in constitutional law. Her edited collection, The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2009), is a compendium of interdisciplinary essays, including her chapter on “Genetics, Neuroscience, and Criminal Responsibility.”

“Advances in science and technology hold great promise for deepening our understanding of the natural world, and for improving institutions dedicated to health, law and national security,” Professor Farahany said. “But such developments also present new challenges to cherished American ideals and constitutional doctrines. I am honored by President Obama’s intent to appoint me to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethics, and for the opportunity to help inform the ethical, legal and policy debates concerning scientific progress.”

[Hear Professor Farahany discuss The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law]

Professor Farahany graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in genetics, cell and developmental biology, and from Harvard University with a master’s degree in biology. She earned her J.D., M.A., and Ph.D. in Philosophy of Biology and Jurisprudence at Duke University. Before joining Vanderbilt’s law faculty, Professor Farahany clerked for the Honorable Judith W. Rogers on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She has presented her work on bioethics, neuroethics, criminal law, and behavioral health law and policy to wide-ranging audiences, including the Second Circuit Judicial Conference, the National Judicial College, the Stanford Center for the Integration of Research on Genetics and Ethics, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. She is a member of the New York Bar, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and the Society for Neuroethics.

“This is an incredible honor for Nita, the Law School, and Vanderbilt University,” said Chris Guthrie, Dean of Vanderbilt Law School. “I commend the White House for appointing Nita to this commission. She has significant expertise in at least three disciplines relevant to the questions this body will be called upon to address and possesses judgment beyond her years.”

In addition to Professor Farahany, other Commission members include:

  • Lonnie Ali (B.A., Vanderbilt, 1978), an outspoken advocate who works to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease, and a member of the board of Mohammad Ali Enterprises
  • Anita L. Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • Barbara Atkinson, Executive Vice Chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center and Executive Dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine
  • Alexander G. Garza, Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Homeland Security
  • Christine Grady, Acting Chief of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center
  • Stephen L. Hauser, M.D., Robert A. Fishman Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of California – San Francisco
  • Raju Kucherlapati, Ph.D., Paul C. Cabot Professor, Harvard Medical School Department of Genetics, and Professor, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Nelson Michael, Director of the Division of Retrovirology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Director, U.S. Military HIV Research Program
  • Daniel Sulmasy, a Franciscan friar who holds the Kilbride-Clinton Chair in Medicine and Ethics in the Department of Medicine and Divinity School at the University of Chicago, where he is also associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics

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