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Law School Dean Emphasizes Mediation for Bioethical Issues

By Ellen Zhang, Crimson Staff Writer

At a lecture Thursday, Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow emphasized the benefits of resolving bioethical issues through mediation, rather than litigation.

Minow gave her speech at the Harvard Medical School’s annual George W. Gay Lecture, an event HMS describes on its website as “quite possibly the oldest medical ethics lectureship in the United States.”

The lecture, titled “Religion, Medicine, and Law: How to Heal When Values Conflict,” attracted an audience of roughly 100 people, from physicians and public health students to medical students and professors. The event took place in the Carl W. Walter Amphitheater.

Exploring various ethical debates regarding vaccinations, reproductive freedom, and physician-assisted suicide, Minow stressed that “attentiveness to religion matters even from a purely healthcare vantage point.”

She began by discussing Zubik v. Burwell, a 2016 Supreme Court case brought by a group of religious non-profits challenging the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act. Minow called the case, which was ultimately sent back to the lower courts without a decision, a key example of the interplay between medicine and law, and an example of the justice system failing to resolve a bioethical issue.

“The court did what courts were not supposed to do; they didn’t decide and it remains unsatisfying,” Minow said.

Acknowledging that the judiciary cannot always resolve issues in which there are bioethical considerations, Minow stressed the necessity of mediation when there are “limited solutions in the judiciary.” She also highlighted that working through these issues generally requires a sense of humility.

Applause rang in the auditorium as Minow ended with a call to action: “Let’s break free of our compulsion to break unresolvable conflicts.”

One person in the audience said Minow presented unique views and new ideas.

“I find it fascinating, and coming from Liberia, and stepping in this lecture, I can bring some things back home,” Gloria Mason, a student at HMS studying bioethics, said.

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