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Nicolle Strand

Bioethics is not a topic commonly associated with Presidential administrations and the President’s legacy. But in fact, in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities which can often involve health, science, and technology policy, for decades, Presidents have appointed special commissions to help them tackle bioethical issues that arise during their tenure. President Barack Obama will leave behind a distinguished legacy of accomplishments in bioethics, including a Commission that produced ten reports and over a hundred recommendations on a diverse set of issues that impact the stakeholders of all kinds. Additionally, President Obama made bioethical decisions throughout his eight years in office—when he affirmed that, “In the United States of America, health care is not a privilege for the fortunate few –it is a right,” and worked tirelessly to enact the Affordable Care Act; when he urged continued research to develop a Zika vaccine and emphasized, “But that requires research money. And in order for a vaccine to be widely available it has to be tested to make sure it’s safe; it has to be tested to make sure that it is effective;” and when he launched his bold Precision Medicine Initiative, and said, “we’re going to make sure that protecting patient privacy is built into our efforts from day one.” In each one of these pivotal decisions, he drew on bioethical principles that span decades.

Let’s take a look at some of the bioethical issues President Obama tackled during his Presidency.
When President Obama chartered his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues in 2009, by signing an Executive Order authorizing the appointment of 13 experts in a variety of disciplines, he could not have predicted what a diverse portfolio the Commission would confront.
As the Commission was convened, the media announced that a scientist had “created life” when he engineered the world’s first self-replicating synthetic genome. The Bioethics Commission held its first meeting to discuss the issue of synthetic biology. In this first report, New Directions, the Bioethics Commission set forth a rubric for bioethical reasoning that it would use in the next nine reports it published over the course of the following six years.

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