| May 10, 2001
Penn Bioethicist Named Chief of Bioethics
and Human Subject Protection for NASA
Future ethical challenges will include issues such
as health and illness in long-duration space flight, and
creating an international consensus about space bioethics
among our space partners.
PA) - Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., a fellow at the Center
for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania School
of Medicine, has been named the first Chief of Bioethics
and Human Subject Protection for the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA), effective April 2001.
Wolpe's appointment is the first of its kind at NASA.
As founder of NASA's in-house Bioethics Office he will
contribute to the formulation of policies and procedures
that will help oversee all of NASA's clinical and research
work. "The goal is to hold NASA to the highest
ethical standards while keeping in mind the inherent
risks of space travel," explained Wolpe. He will
spend forty percent of his time on this assignment -
either at the administrative headquarters in DC or in
the research centers in Houston. Wolpe will serve as
functional manager to ensure that research on human
and animal subjects is conducted safely, humanely and
in accordance with high ethical standards; as well as
to plan, direct and promulgate policy and programs in
the field of bioethics. Wolpe's assignment entails providing
key scientific advice and expertise for the following
specific areas: monitoring compliance with all relevant
regulatory and statutory requirements; planning, organizing
and integrating NASA's Institutional Review Board (IRB)
and Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC); external ethical
reviews and developing standards and guidelines tailored
to unique programmatic research requirements; and crafting
an international bioethics policy for all countries
involved in collaborative space exploration.
The continued success of space travel will create many
new and interesting ethical challenges that must be
identified and addressed by Wolpe's office. "Space
travel is a unique human endeavor that poses unique
ethical challenges," says Wolpe. For instance,
there are totally diverse current issues that his office
will have to deal with - from handling crises like an
astronaut needing expert medical attention on a mission
to writing policy to define the fine line between operational
testing and research. As the program moves into the
future, Wolpe will help address challenges like the
ethics of genetic testing of astronauts, exposing astronauts
to potentially dangerous doses of radiation, hazardous
research that must be performed on earth to anticipate
problems in space, etc.
Wolpe will represent NASA on interagency working groups
for the protection of patients, human subjects and welfare
of animals used in research. He is also beginning collaboration
on an international bioethics policy code for space
research with America's space partners, which includes
Russia, the European Union, Japan and Canada. "Though
an agreement currently does exist between our space
partners, it is fragmented and subjective; therefore,
it needs to be formalized," explained Wolpe.
"We are very pleased to welcome Dr. Paul Wolpe
to our staff at NASA Headquarters," said Richard
Williams, MD, FACS, Acting Chief Health and Medical
Officer for NASA. "As Chief of Bioethics, his extensive
experience will be invaluable as NASA meets its commitment
to our research, technology development, and health
care adhering to the highest bioethical principles.
Dr. Wolpe will serve as a great asset for NASA and the
nation as he further develops our bioethics expertise."
In addition to his continuing position at Penn's Center
for Bioethics, Wolpe holds faculty appointments in the
Departments of Psychiatry and Sociology in Penn's School
of Medicine. He is also a Senior Fellow of Penn's Leonard
Davis Institute for Health Economics. He serves as the
bioethics advisor to the Philadelphia Department of
Human Services' Children and Youth Division, and also
sits on a number of non-profit organizational boards,
journal editorial boards and working groups.
The winner of a number of teaching and writing awards,
Wolpe has been chosen by The Teaching Company as a "Superstar
Teacher of America". He is the author of the textbook
Sexuality and Gender in Society, the forthcoming Manual
for Jewish End-of-life Decision-Making, and a book on
how genetics and new reproductive technologies will
change our conceptions of family and family structure.
Wolpe is a columnist on biotechnology for the Philadelphia
Inquirer, and is frequently cited in the national print
and broadcast media. He has also written numerous articles
and book chapters in sociology, medicine and bioethics.
According to Wolpe, every person who witnessed the nation's
early endeavors into space, the first moon landing and
ensuing countless 'space' movies and serials, has probably
dreamed of being an astronaut. So, even though this
prestigious appointment came "totally out of the
blue" it "reenergized some childhood fantasies"
for Wolpe. "I feel this appointment is an exciting
opportunity to set fundamental bioethics policy in space,
enabling frequent space travel to become a reality for
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