Institute for Humanities Research Fellowship (2017-18)

Multi-sited, mixed methods research project with Emily S. Mann (USC) and Patrick R. Grzanka (UTK)

There is, at present, significant enthusiasm across the political spectrum for long acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), which promise an affordable, reliable, and safe means by which to reduce rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion. As LARC promotion efforts are officially adopted by states and the world’s most influential health organizations, sustained critical attention is warranted to the diversity of ways in which LARC may or may not do the work it is intended to do in the world: to empower people to choose not to get pregnant. This project analyzes recent LARC promotion practices and policies, and seeks to better understand the lived experiences of the women who choose LARC.

Dissertation: Assessing Corporate Bioethics: A Qualitative Exploration of How Bioethics is Enacted in Biomedicine Companies

Corporations in biomedicine hold significant power and influence, in both political and personal spheres. The decisions these companies make about ethics are critically important, as they help determine what products are developed, how they are developed, how they are promoted, and potentially even how they are regulated. In the last fifteen years, for-profit private companies have been assembling bioethics committees to help resolve dilemmas that require informed deliberation about ethical, legal, scientific, and economic considerations. Private sector bioethics committees represent an important innovation in the governance of emerging technologies, with corporations taking a lead role in deciding what is ethically appropriate or problematic. And yet, we know very little about these committees, including their structures, memberships, mandates, authority, and impact.

Drawing on an extensive literature review and qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with executives, scientists and board members, this dissertation provides an in-depth analysis of the Ethics and Public Policy Board at SmithKline Beecham, the Ethics Advisory Board at Advanced Cell Technology, and the Bioethics Committee at Eli Lilly and offers insights about how ideas of bioethics and governance are currently imagined and enacted within corporations. The SmithKline Beecham board was the first private sector bioethics committee; its mandate was to explore, in a comprehensive and balanced analysis, the ethics of macro trends in science and technology. The Advanced Cell Technology board was created to be like a watchdog for the company, to prevent them from making major errors. The Eli Lilly board is different from the others in that it is made up mostly of internal employees and does research ethics consultations within the company.

These private sector bioethics committees evaluate and construct new boundaries between their private interests and the public values they claim to promote. Findings from this dissertation show that criticisms of private sector bioethics that focus narrowly on financial conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency obscure analysis of the ideas about governance (about expertise, credibility and authority) that emerge from these structures and the consequences of moving ethical deliberation from the public to the private sector.

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