Dr. Etienne Lepicard, a member of the Jerusalem kehilla and director of Beit HaGat in Ein Karem, writes to us about his appointment as a member of the National Council for Bioethics.
Yesterday (5.2.2013), I received the appointment letter to serve on the National Council for Bioethics.
As in a number of other countries in the world, a national council for bioethics has existed in Israel for a number of years. It is a governmental body that was established in order to recommend policy to decision makers with regard to ethical issues arising from the developments in research in biology, biotechnology, medicine, genetics and their social and legal implications.
In Israel, it was Professor Michel Ravel from the Weizmann Institute who promoted the issue up until the establishment of the Council by a decision of the government in 2001. The council began its deliberations in 2004. Until the present, the Council was made up of 17 members, who were appointed jointly by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health. Some of the members are professionals from the fields of medicine, biology, genetics, law, philosophy, religion and education and some of them are representatives of government ministries: justice, science, health, agriculture, environment, labor and welfare. The first Council was headed by Professor Ravel from 2004 until 2010. In order to get to know its endeavors one can visit the site of the council here
In 2012, a second Council was appointed under the joint leadership of Professor Efrat Levi Lahad and Professor Rabbi Abraham Steinberg. One of the first decisions of this Council was to broaden the number of members in order that more professionals from the field of ethics would serve on it as well as representatives of the other religions, i.e. Islam and Christianity. It was because of this that they contacted me.
For me, this is like a coming around full circle. I studied medicine in France at the time that the National Advisory Council of Ethics for Life Sciences and Health was established by President Mitterand in 1983. I chose to write my final dissertation in medicine on subjects connected to this field as “reflections of a Christian doctor on the Jewish sources”. I arrived in Israel in 1986 and one of the first things I did after having studied Hebrew was to translate an article, which I saw as foundational, the work of a child neurologist – Rabbi Abraham Steinberg, today one of the two chairmen of the new Council.
A no less important connection established at that time was with Professor Father Marcel Dubois, the Dominican priest from Isaiah House who was professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University. He strongly encouraged me to place at the center of my life my research into medical ethics. Father Marcel helped me when I was asked to be the teaching assistant to Professor Shmuel Kottek in the history of medicine. At this time, I began my studies towards a doctorate in the history of the philosophy of sciences at the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. For my doctoral dissertation, I researched a theme at the other pole of Judaism and Christianity when compared with my first research. I analyzed to what extent Catholic teaching was implicated in the formation of the opinions of a Catholic doctor, Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient, opinions that today are identified with Nazi medical-racial theories. I felt obligated to clean up my own front yard.
When I was accepted as a lecturer in history and medical ethics in the Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in 2001, I had the sense that Father Marcel had been right. I was accepted because the Faculty had decided to carry out a drastic change in the course curriculum for medical students and to consecrate important learning time to humanities and social sciences during studies of medicine. This meant that my quest was not simply individual but was situated within a wider context. Together with this, the present appointment opens up another dimension: to represent the Christian voice in the bioethical discourse in Israel. For me this will be an opportunity to get to know better this voice in Israel in all its diversity of currents. It could also be an opportunity for us as Christians to take part in the formation of social and cultural life in contemporary Israel.