PCAST and Bioethics Commission Back At It With Meetings

It’s an odd-numbered month, so the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) will have another meeting. It will take place in Washington on May 25, and the draft agenda is available online.  As is customary, the meeting will be webcast.  Aside from the usual updates on PCAST studies in progress and the public comment period (which may or may not be dominated by a particular issue), the meeting appears to have a couple of themes.  The first is an introduction of new science and technology officials.  The recently appointed head of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the new Chief Technology Officer are scheduled to speak.  The other theme is technology.  In what I think is a first for this PCAST, there will be a couple of private company technology presentations.  IBM’s Watson, most familiar to game show watchers as the computer that won Jeopardy! will be discussed, along with Google’s self-driving car.

This month marks the infrequent occasion where the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues meets in the same month as PCAST.  The Commission will meet on May 17 in Washington, and the agenda suggests it will be a packed day.  Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius will appear before the Commission (which is housed within the Department), and there are three major topics for the day.  Two of the topics deal with the ethics of specific kinds of medical research – pediatric and medical countermeasures.  I would expect the recent debate over whether to publish papers concerning the H5N1 virus will come up at some point during the discussions on medical countermeasures.

The other theme builds on the Commission’s work at its last meeting.  The meeting will close with discussions of genomics, data privacy, and health information technology.  The Commission intends to issue a report on genetic testing near the end of 2012, so I’m a little surprised to see the topic take so little of the agenda.

Like the PCAST meeting, the Bioethics Commission meeting should be webcast as well.  Check the websites of the respective bodies on the day of the meetings for the links.

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