Remarks by Neen Hunt, former President of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, presented on May 15, 2003, at the Lasker Forum on Ethical Challenges in Biomedical Research and Practice.
Mr. Hughes has spoken about the philosophical orientation that has influenced this particular initiative of the Lasker Trust. I'll just add to his thoughts by articulating more about the expectations and interests of Lasker for the Forum. It is an initial commitment for this philanthropy, but we are very encouraged about the prospects for this gathering to usefully address new, confounding questions, some of which urgently need answers, presented by advances in medical research and practice.
Many of you know that Lasker's mission, historically, has been to generate support for medical science through our international Awards program in basic and clinical research. These universally respected awards have increased public appreciation for the potential of research to battle disease, and have strengthened advocacy efforts to enhance federal funding. However, Lasker is now at the nexus between an established legacy and a future of new possibilities. While the Trust continues to reinforce and applaud the science of research, it also recognizes that there is other work to be done—daunting work that requires the attention of the best minds willing to focus on not just the ends of science, but also on its means and on the implications for the way we think about human health, the responsibility of the state, and the potential for scientific knowledge to determine the horizon of our species.
The Trust's endorsement of this Forum is informed by the following principles: First and foremost, Lasker is dedicated to saving lives and reducing suffering through the miraculous discoveries of science. To enable science to flourish, we want to eliminate obstacles that might retard this incredible knowledge journey. Specious arguments, fear of improbable risks, doomsday predictions, the specter of ignoble values driving the enterprisethese are such obstacles. This Forum presents a context in which to expose faulty reasoning that sees evils in science, to analyze the complex roots of private opinions that harshly judge science, and to wrestle with the tightly grasped assumptions held by science technology adversaries. Lasker expects that your contribution will create better assurances that ignorance, anxiety and value loggerheads will be less likely to threaten science progress.
Secondly, Lasker wishes to act boldly on behalf of research, and we believe this is one arena in which to exhibit this mindset. Prior to Lasker's launch of the Forum, as I inquired about working on the kinds of issues that you are debating in the case studies, I heard reasons not to proceed and words of caution. Some people forecast that we would invite the over-regulation of science; others opined that ethical discussions are messy and conclude little, or that this effort might blemish Lasker's reputation for research excellence by leading to policies compromised by non-science pressures.
Recognizing that there are arguments for remaining indifferent, Lasker, on the contrary, has elected to use its good name to bring to the table commonsense men and women who are willing to tackle tough questions handed to us by this new knowledge. We believe in the benefits of discourse and in the goodwill of thoughtful people. Guidance and insight from you will help to liberate society's understandings about these matters by working towards freeing them from conclusion jumping, simple mindedness, prejudice and even vanity. Therefore, we hope that you will bring to these deliberations a willing ear, a steady flow of penetrating questions, a generous regard for different perspectives, and a questing, adventurous intelligence. As you problem solve, we urge you to examine the daily moral appeals of ordinary citizens for just, humane decisions in the face of difficult choices. Acknowledging the startling power of science, we hope that you also will raise issues about the duty of enlightened professionals to the less knowledgeable in our society so that all get a fair shake from our current and future treasure trove of science advances.
And thirdly, Lasker aims to be forward looking in its efforts; we have a rich past that secures us a place in history, but we are focusing on safeguarding the future. As was brought home so vividly in the documentary last night, the pace of science stands to outstrip the capacity of our other social institutions to cope with its consequences. So Lasker views this Forum as an opportunity to work on behalf of the next generations so that their world will be not defined by the blindness and divisions that sometimes characterize human endeavors which move forward without the light of calm, mature judgment.
The search for knowledge can never end, but it can have many beginnings. We may be learning painfully how to improve who we are and how we can contribute to the advance of our civilization, but mankind has been puzzling forever over what it means to become a human being. Surely we all, in the words of St. Paul, "see through a glass darkly," but the willingness to try to see is what counts. We live in a difficult time, when one can't help getting cynical and maybe shortsighted. So to the extent that your vision from this Forum helps another's, to that extent will our society be wiser and more caring as it responds to this profound new age. Thank you so very much for your participation. And a special thanks to our Co-Chairs, Drs. Kennedy and Shapiro, for generously imparting their knowledge and experience, for superior leadership and for their sustained enthusiasm as the Forum evolved.