U group dedicated to medical ethics

by Bei Hu

From radical draft-card burners in the 1960s to conservative military officers and religious believers, the members of the advisory board of the University’s Program in Human Rights and Medicine is a true motley.
“It’s a lively, wonderful mix of things,” said John Dolan, the program’s co-chairman and a University philosophy professor. “What these people have in common is they respect one another, and they are very intelligent and thoughtful people.”
The program does not have any specific membership requirements, but the board is committed to fostering lively debates about issues of human rights and medicine among people with sharply contrasting views.
“As a group, we don’t have an official line on anything,” said Dolan. “We want to see really healthy, strong discussions where all points of view are expressed.”
Such diversity was not lacking when linguist Noam Chomsky handed out award certificates to the three winners of the group’s first human rights internship grant competition on Tuesday in Coffman Memorial Union.
On the eve of Chomsky’s arrival, Dolan could not help ruminating about how the “Chomsky crowd” would react when they found out a pro-life law student at the University was among the award recipients. The student, Kehri Kaczmarek, said she wants to use the money to research progressive groups’ philosophies on abortion.
The program was founded in 1988 by Dolan, GEM Anscombe, whom Dolan dubbed “the greatest living woman philosopher,” and the late Hymie Gordon, a South African native who founded the program in medical genetics at the Mayo Clinic.
“We wanted the program … to be much richer and wider in its conception of what discussions, what speakers and thinkers and perspectives should be drawn in,” Dolan said.
Dolan met Chomsky 33 years ago while working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both of them refused to pay taxes to the government in the 1960s to protest its involvement in Vietnam. Chomsky joined the group’s board last year.
But unlike other medical ethics groups, the program focuses on the socially disadvantaged, whether it be those who cannot afford health insurance, or those who suffer from mental or physical disabilities or senility.
The group sees the latest developments in medicine, especially in such fields as genetics, reproductive technology and organ transplant, as presenting a serious challenge to medical ethics, law and public policy. Its members are also concerned with the widening gap between the rich and the poor’s access to medical care and skyrocketing medical costs.
Last year, Steven Calvin, the program’s co-chairman and a University professor in obstetrics and gynecology, was summoned to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the advances of perinatal medicine since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade in 1973.
Another member of the group’s advisory board, David Weissbrodt, was elected in 1996 to serve a four-year term on the United Nations Subcommisson on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
“They are very dedicated people,” said University philosophy major Jeff Hoelscher, who received a $3,000 grant.