April 16, 2010

U of C professor appointed to Obama's bioethical issues committee

Medical and Divinity Professor Daniel Sulmasy was appointed to President Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues last week.

“The place of a commission like this is...that our recommendations can be taken up at the federal level or even by the states,” said Sulmasy, who studies end-of-life decision making and spirituality in medicine. “Our work will always be public, so I hope that we will be simultaneously educating the public.”

Created in a recent executive order, the 12-member commission will “advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.” Although the commission will exist in a purely advisory capacity, the policies they recommend may be adopted in legislation.

A Fransiscan Friar, Sulmasy hopes he can “bring some explicitly religious views to the bioethical debate,” but he said he was surprised to find out he was picked to sit on the commission, which includes university presidents and directors of top medical centers.

“I have no idea why they picked me. I’m humbled to be working with such accomplished colleagues,” said Sulmasy, who is also associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. “We all bring a little different perspective to the table.”

Sulmasy came to the University from New York Medical School in July. Sulmasy has served on New York State Task Force on Life and the Law and the Ethics Committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Board. “This commission is certainly different from those other committees. The Presidential Commission should have more room to be free from regulatory and legislative influences, so we’ll probably be able to give better advice,” Sulmasy said.

Dr. Sulmasy is not the first doctor from the University of Chicago to be appointed to a presidential bioethical advisory committee. President Bush’s Council on Bioethics was led by influential professor Dr. Leon Kass and included U of C cancer geneticist Dr. Janet Rowley.

“I have some tough shoes to fill, but I will try my humble best,” Sulmasy said.