Mission

The mission of the UNC Center for Bioethics is to provide a core facility for collaborative capacity-building in bioethics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Biomedical research, public health planning, and health care practice all encounter increasingly complicated ethical challenges. We need robust responses to this complexity, and that requires the ability to integrate multiple perspectives in our planning and decision-making. The Center operates on the assumption that the most robust resolutions to bioethical questions in today’s world share five virtues:

  • They have interdisciplinary intellectual roots.
  • They are alive to an issue’s international and cross-cultural dimensions.
  • They are “translational” between theory and practice.
  • They incorporate a diversity of non-academic voices.
  • They are “street smart” about an issue’s social and political context.

The Center’s goal is to promote work that displays these virtues, by providing intellectual “lab space” and core resources for local, national, and international faculty and students in pursuit of educational, research, or policy projects in bioethics. Beyond these aims, The Center’s topical scope, theoretical approaches, and research methods are “investigator-initiated,” reflecting the interests and needs of the collaborating scholars, rather than a pre-established thematic agenda.

History

The UNC Center for Bioethics was originally proposed in 1999 by Larry Churchhill, Ph.D. and Laura Hanson, M.D., as the “Center for Health Ethics and Policy”, and they served as its founding Co-Directors when it was established by the University as a unit of the School of Medicine in 2001. The Center was active under their leadership until 2004. In 2008, Dr. Etta Pisano, the Vice Dean for the School of Medicine, revitalized the Center and initiated the search that brought the Center’s current leadership to UNC in 2010.

Focus

Biomedical research, health care practice, and public health planning involve complicated ethical challenges. Some are new issues, spurred by scientific and social innovation. But many are chronic, structural, and endemic: issues of access and outcomes, engagement and control, roles and relationships that resist simple solutions because of the many interests they implicate.

These issues are tempting to bypass in trying to keep up with the leading edges of biomedicine. They require close study from multiple perspectives to understand, and the reconciliation of multiple voices to resolve. But they always catch up with us eventually, to become major impediments to achieving our health goals.

Our Center focuses on giving these complex bioethical challenges the close attention they deserve, by fostering the interdisciplinary, collaborative work they require.

Scope

Our Center provides an intellectual home for programs, faculty, and students seeking to work together in crafting educational, research and policy projects in bioethics, at four levels:

  • Across all the schools and programs of UNC-CH, to tap our local wealth of expertise and experience.
  • Within North Carolina’s robust bioethics network, to pool our strengths in addressing regional issues.
  • In conjunction with the nation’s other leading bioethics programs, to enrich our collective efforts as a field.
  • Around the globe, in sustained partnerships with our international colleagues, to incorporate the critical questions, priorities and ideas they raise for bioethics at work in an interdependent world.

Support

  • UNC School of Medicine Dean’s Office
  • UNC Department of Social Medicine
  • UNC Health System
  • NC TraCS Institute
  • NC Center for AIDS Research
  • NC Center for Genomics and Society
  • Fogarty International Center
  • NIH National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
  • National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAID)
  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)