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Section Leader Selected for Stem Cell Trust Ethics Committee

Leading Forward in New Frontiers - open minds counseled by critical thinking and shared insights

On July 26, 2007 Gov. Spitzer named 11 appointees to serve on the committees that form the Empire State Stem Cell Board. Robert Swidler, Esq. NYSBA Health Law Journal Editor and much appreciated contributor from the Health section's first days, was appointed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to the ethics committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Trust. The trust, which also has a second committee on funding, will recommend how to spend $600 million in state money for basic, applied, translational and other research that advances scientific discoveries in fields related to stem cell biology. No grants will be permitted for research involving human reproductive cloning.

An article in today's Times Union includes staff writer Cathleen Crowley's interview with Bob. "Robert Swidler is not a doctor," she writes, "but he has a physician-like devotion to health care."

Much more after the jump.

In the interview, Bob reflects on the times and events of his professional life "Tackling Life-and-Death issues." On what was it like serving on the NYS Task Force on Life and Law 1985-1990 he recalls that:

"It was terrific! Governor Cuomo appointed this multidisciplinary panel to look at issues like withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, DNR orders and surrogate parenting arrangements. ..For five years, we sat around a table. There were doctors and lawyers and nurses, social workers, philosophers, ethicists, and we talked about these profound bioethical issues at an early period before there was a lot of literature on it."

Presently as general counsel and vice president of legal affairs for Northeast Health, the Troy-based regional provider of health and senior services that also operates Albany Memorial and Samaritan hospitals, Bob advises doctors and hospital adminstrators on legal issues.
He points out:

"What health care providers like Northeast Health do is fundamentally important to people. They work to preserve people's lives and restore their health. The issues that they come to me about include but go well beyond the typical business legal issues and involve matters from end-of-life decisions to dilemmas about preserving the privacy of genetic information that might impact the relatives of a patient."

How does Bob see his role on the Stem Cell Board?

"It's to come in there and not be an expert on genetics and not be an expert on the business side of the research, but to bring the background I have, the experience of health law and medical ethics generally and contribute that to the discussion...I haven't been very deeply involved in the stem cell issue. I have been very involved in medical ethics generally. My focus has been more on end-of-life issues, rather than beginning-of-life issues."

Reporter Crowly queries:
>"You are going to be reviewing proposals for stem cell research projects from across the state. Do you have a general sense of what you will be looking for? R: "I would think the funding committee would be more focused on specific proposals, but I would assume the ethics committee will be working more generally on principles we want to see proposals follow. But I don't know for sure."

It seems to me that Bob's answer is exactly right at this time. How can a group of the best thinkers reach consensus in new frontiers? Observing, then examining the conditions that shape the context for the subject mater to be studied requires a serious commitment. Being unafraid to examine new ideas and challenge your own assumptions is a big challenge in itself. Lawyers are trained to do these investigative activities-- listening to a call for the need of legal advice and/or skills whether from their clients or society in support of the rule of law. Advising on legal matters requires formulating an hypothesis, acertaining and applying the facts at hand to come to understand what is needed using their knowledge of the law.

Evidentiary systems are the tools of many of the social sciences too. Those experts also seek to find the truth in thinking through analysis, collecting evidence, testing conclusions that may solve the problems posed by their respective disciplines.

Of course, the peer review process of science is one of its core values and the funding committee is charged with using an independent scientific peer review process to make its decisions.

Consider also the spirit of the Task Force, where

. . . the members' openness to listening and learning from one another, and their commitment to finding a common moral ground, have provided a foundation for consensus statewide on each of the important issues of public concern they have examined.

The Stem Cell Board will be chaired by the Commissioner Daines, M.D. who will also act as a member on each committee. The Funding Committee will make recommendations for the awarding of grants to the Commissioner based upon the analysis and recommendations of an independent scientific peer review process. The Ethics Committee will make recommendations regarding scientific, medical and ethical standards.

The nominee list comprises:
Funding Committee: Kenneth Adams, New York State Business Council Robin Elliott, New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research Gerald Fischbach, M.D., Columbia University David Hohn, M.D., Roswell Park Cancer Institute Harold Varmus, M.D., Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Ethics Committee: Samuel Gorovitz, Ph.D., Syracuse University David Hohn, M.D., Roswell Park Cancer Institute Robert Klitzman, M.D., Columbia University H. Hugh Maynard-Reid, D.Min, North Brooklyn Health Network Tia Powell, M.D., New York State Task Force on Life & the Law Robert Swidler, Esq., Northeast Health.

Important perspectives:
Gov. Spitzer: "The individuals that we are nominating to the Empire Stem Cell Board will help bring thoughtful leadership, scientific expertise, and ethical considerations to the advancement of stem cell research."

Lieutenant Governor David A. Paterson: "The appointed members of the Empire State Stem Cell Board represent the best leadership our State has to offer in the stem cell research field."

Commissioner of Health Richard F. Daines, M.D.: "...The caliber of the Empire State Stem Cell Board members is outstanding, and we look forward to working with them."

The Task Force on Life and the Law was created in 1985, charged with devising public policy on a host of issues. It encompasses expertise from many disciplines, and also reflects the wide spectrum of opinion and belief about bioethics issues in New York State.The Task Force is currently the only standing state government commission in the United States with a mandate to recommend public policy on a range of medical/ethical issues.

The Nominations of the Empire Stem Cell board were applauded by many! See the governor's press release here.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 24, 2007 12:27 PM.

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