What’s next in bioethics? The power of people

“What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world. What you do for others lives on forever.” – Sir Ken Robinson

As we emerge from 2020, we are all undoubtedly a little different. Some of us transformed in big ways shaped by life events like unemployment or loved ones lost. Others altered in smaller, more incidental ways through new routines or new vocabulary. Now, the challenge becomes how can each of us harness this change to spark action, inspire new commitments, change minds and change outcomes.

I can’t help but turn to the teachings of my greatest mentor Baruch Brody. Long before mentoring was a movement, Baruch Brody mastered it. Baruch personified much of what our center and the field of bioethics still stands for today — a critical thinker and an institution builder, an extraordinary scholar, a fierce advocate for the underdog, and so much more. I personally would not be who or where I am in my career without him.

Baruch’s passing in 2018, as well as the passing of several other seminal leaders in the field of bioethics over the last few years, has challenged us to ask the difficult question: How can we honor the vibrant legacy of those courageous enough to tackle the most challenging moral issues in medicine and build a future they would be proud of? How do each of us continue to stretch ourselves to think deeply and critically in service to providing a meaningful perspective?

How do we better the field – ensuring the complexities of medical ethics are approachable and inclusive, embrace ideas that are new and different and are able to be implemented to make lasting change?

That’s why we partnered with Rice University’s Philosophy Department and Houston Methodist to create the Baruch A. Brody Award and Lecture. We hope to identify and spotlight future leaders in the field and encourage the next generation of bioethicists to be bold in their work. We believe that social change and public policy must be grounded in rigorous conceptual ideas generated through disciplined reasoning and careful analysis.

This year, we are honored to recognize Dr. Camisha Russell, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon. Camisha is pioneering the concept of race as a technology, moving from asking what race is to what race does and dissecting how the concept of race and sameness is used to perpetuate the status quo, specifically in assisted reproduction.

Much like the awards namesake, Camisha has been described as intellectually fearless and original, while simultaneously respectful. Specifically, she’s examining why perspective parents who undergo in vitro fertilization might choose to have donor gametes who look like themselves? She investigates why people care so much about this and its impact on our understanding of race and racial identity.

More broadly, she asks which medical treatments and interventions get developed to treat infertility problems, what sorts of infertility problems are prioritized, and what are the assumptions that underlie these decisions? Her questions and critical thinking on this is changing the landscape of bioethics and challenging our existing medical and clinical practices.

Camisha and Baruch share a commitment to justice and a passion for what they do and who they can help. They recognize that bioethics must consider broader societal issues and structures and that each of us has a responsibility to question our assumptions and challenge the status quo in order to effect positive change.

Our hope is that through this award, we continue to honor Baruch’s memory and his desire to improve humanity through bioethics. It’s about driving home the idea that the field of bioethics today is not resolute. It is, like us all, a work in progress calling for ideas and individuals to step up and make a difference.

The 2nd Baruch A. Brody Award and Lecture titled Meeting the Moment: Bioethics in the Time of Black Lives Matter” will take place virtually on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at noon CT.  Learn more and register today

By Amy McGuire, J.D., Ph.D., director and professor of biomedical ethics in the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine

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