Arras Named to Presidential Commission on Bioethics

May 13, 2010 —President Obama has appointed University of Virginia bioethics professor John D. Arras to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

The commission will advise the president on bioethical issues related to advances in biomedicine, scientific research, health care delivery and technological innovation. Currently composed of 13 members, the commission's first meeting is scheduled for early July.

"It's a very distinguished group of scholars, medical educators, researchers and advocates, and I'm honored to be numbered among them," said Arras, the Porterfield Professor of Biomedical Ethics, a professor of philosophy and founding director of the College of Arts & Sciences' undergraduate bioethics program, the first of its kind in the United States. "I'm looking forward to contributing to the development of bioethics policy in the U.S."

Appointed on May 7, Arras is the second U.Va. faculty member to serve on a presidential bioethics commission. The first, James Childress, the John Allen Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics, a professor of medical education and director of U.Va.'s Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, was appointed by President Clinton in 1996 to the 17-member National Bioethics Advisory Commission.

Arras has published extensively on physician-assisted suicide; ethical issues posed by public health catastrophes, such as Hurricane Katrina and the SARS epidemic; research ethics and the conduct of international drug trials; and international human rights in the context of debates over avian flu and access to life-saving AIDS medications.

In 1995, Arras edited a groundbreaking book on high-tech home care. He has also co-authored two influential readers for students and scholars in bioethics: "Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine" (now in its sixth edition) and "Ethical and Regulatory Aspects of Clinical Research," which offers a comprehensive approach to research ethics. In all, Arras has published more than 60 substantive articles or book chapters and has edited two additional volumes – one of which is the leading resource in the field of research ethics – as well as several special issues of journals.

Arras is affiliated with the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities in the U.Va. School of Medicine. He is a longtime fellow and former board member of the Hastings Center, the nation's preeminent bioethical research institute. He also consults regularly at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and serves on the national ethics committee of the March of Dimes. He was a founding member of the ethics advisory board of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (2004-09).

In 2006, he received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Prior to his move to U.Va. in 1995, Arras was for 14 years associate professor of bioethics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine-Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and adjunct associate professor of philosophy at Barnard College and Columbia University. During those years, he served as a member of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's state Task Force on Life and the Law.

Arras received his B.A. from the University of San Francisco and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

— By Brevy Cannon