Skip to main content area Skip to main content area Skip to institutional navigation Skip to search Skip to section navigation

U.S. Presidential Bioethics Commission to Meet at Penn

August 19, 2010
Dr. Amy Gutmann, Penn President

Anita L. Allen, Deputy Dean and Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy

In mid-September, the University of Pennsylvania will host the second meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, chaired by Penn President Amy Gutmann. James W. Wagner, president of Emory University, serves as the panel’s vice chair.

The 13-member Commission, formed by President Barack Obama by Executive Order in November 2009, is charged with “identifying and promoting policies that ensure scientific research, healthcare delivery, and technical innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner.” The advisory body is comprised of some of the nation’s leading experts in medicine, law, nursing, ethics, religion and engineering. It also includes three representatives of the federal government and members from two branches of the military. Penn is additionally represented on the Commission by Law professor Anita L Allen.

At its inaugural meeting, held in July in Washington, D.C., the Commission tackled its first assignment from President Obama: to study the scientific and ethical ramifications of synthetic biology. During a two-day session, which was open to the public, the Commission heard from a wide field of experts, including bioengineer Craig Venter, who announced last May that his research team had created the world’s first self-replicating genome in a bacterial cell of a different species.

“Breakthroughs can help humanity, but they typically also carry risks,” Gutmann stated at the onset of the meeting. “This is why it is key for this commission to be an inclusive and deliberative body, encouraging the exchange of well-reasoned perspectives with the goal of making recommendations that will serve the public well and will serve the public good.”

The Commission will hold its second meeting on campus, Sept. 13 and 14. The sessions will be open to the public, and a webcast of the proceedings also will be available at The panel’s third meeting will be held at Emory University in Atlanta, Nov. 16 and 17. For more information visit

Excerpted from the Penn Current