June 11, 2010
We launched the Women's Bioethics Project six years ago. With your support, we developed innovative programs, policy recommendations and research on ethical issues pertaining to women’s health, reproductive technologies, and neuroethics. We made a difference: our work brought these important issues to new audiences and encouraged women to participate in policy development around bioethics questions. Please take a look at the attached "Report to the Board" highlighting some of the key activities we accomplished together. I sincerely appreciate the time, talent, and financial resources you have contributed to make our effort a success. Thank you.
We now have an extraordinary opportunity to take our work to the next level. As Craig Venter and his colleagues create "the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer," and Lee Hood's team completes the first family genome study, we are entering a new and very exciting era in biology and medicine. Simultaneously, bioethical issues are showing up with increasing frequency in film, television and literature. Million Dollar Baby dealt with euthanasia and the right to die; The Constant Gardener with informed consent and drug trials in developing countries; The Island with human clones for replacement parts; Gattaca with genetic engineering; The Sixth Day with cloning; Minority Report with neuroengineering; and Bicentennial Man with artificial intelligence. Popular television programs such as Law and Order, House, Grey's Anatomy and CSI Miami have tackled issues from informed consent to genetic testing. In literature, Margaret Atwood showed us the perils of bio-engineering in Oryx & Crake, Kazuo Ishiguro focused on cloning in Never Let Me Go, Michael Crichton dealt with genetics in Next, and Jodi Picoult took on savior siblings in My Sister's Keeper (now a movie too.) Not since the early days of space exploration have we seen the general public's interest in science and ethics-related issues so piqued.
Most of the recent works in this vein focus on the perils rather than the promise of biotechnology, and it is these perils that conservatives use to promote their agenda. These aren't just talking points: conservative bioethics centers have made popular movies and books major vehicles for their message. Yet filmmakers, television producers and authors are not intentionally driving a conservative bioethics agenda; rather, they are merely creating compelling story lines with strong narrative tension. What would happen if more of these story lines incorporated a progressive viewpoint? There’s an enormous opportunity to expose the progressive side of bioethics through popular media if we can help find and cultivate the material.
We need ways to reach people outside of the academic and policy realms. Leveraging the power of popular culture is a compelling strategy that engages the public in a visceral and dramatic way. Many emerging technologies and ideas were unimaginable until recently. Genetic testing, designer babies, radical life extension, and neural imaging, to name just a few, are still in their infancy. And there is a great opportunity for determining how these issues are framed in the public mind. Policy will follow public opinion, so we must ensure progressive values are part of the national conversation.
It is time to take our work to the next level: influencing popular culture. This new focus is an evolution and extension of our original vision. We are in the initial planning stages of this next great adventure. If you are interested in being involved, follow me on Twitter @khinsch or contact me directly.
The Women's Bioethics Project has been a wonderful experience. We are grateful for the many accomplished people who gave generously of their time and talent; the influential organizations that partnered with us; and the visionary, generous donors who took a chance on a big concept that few have tried. However, addressing the new cultural challenge requires a new organization with a less specific focus than a public policy think-tank. As a result, the Women's Bioethics Project will close its doors on June 11, 2010.
I look forward to keeping in touch with each of you. Thanks for all you have done to move this critical agenda forward.
Kathryn M. Hinsch
Women’s Bioethics Project
New contact information:
khinsch at mazama.net