Vardit Ravitsky named president of The Hastings Center

Vardit Ravitsky, professeure titulaire de bioéthique au Département de médecine sociale et préventive de l’École de santé publique de l’Université de Montréal (ESPUM)

Vardit Ravitsky, professeure titulaire de bioéthique au Département de médecine sociale et préventive de l’École de santé publique de l’Université de Montréal (ESPUM)

In 5 seconds

The UdeM professor has been tapped to lead one of the world's most prestigious institutes for basic research in bioethics.

Vardit Ravitsky, a professor of bioethics in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health, will become the new president of The Hastings Center on Sept. 1.

Based in Garrison, an hour's drive north of New York City on the Hudson River, the Center is an independent bioethics research institute that studies social and ethical issues in health care, science, the environment and technology.

Ravitsky is an internationally renowned scholar interested in the ethical, legal and social implications of emerging technologies. She is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and director of the ethics and health unit at UdeM’s Ethics Research Centre. She chaired the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation's COVID-19 impact committee. In her frontline roles, she has championed equity and the interests of vulnerable populations.

We spoke with her about her appointment.

What is bioethics and why is it important?

Bioethics is the study of the ethical, social, legal and political issues related to biomedicine and human health. It is critically important because new technologies that have a significant impact on our lifestyles and health care, such as gene editing and artificial intelligence, are constantly emerging. We are often uncertain about how they should be used and we need ethical principles to guide us. We need bioethics as patients, as families and communities, as clinicians, as policymakers, and more broadly as a global society.

Without bioethical input, for example, gene sequencing could expose individuals to risks such as invasion of privacy and discrimination, organ donors could be pressured to donate their organs without proper consent, participants in research studies in low-income countries could be exploited, new technologies could be made available to the wealthy and exacerbate social inequalities, or public health measures such as quarantines could infringe on fundamental freedoms in ways that are not warranted.

Bioethical principles are therefore necessary to ensure we can all benefit from scientific progress while being protected from harm.

What do you hope to accomplish at The Hastings Center?

The Hastings Center is an institute that has been instrumental in creating and developing the field of bioethics since the 1960s.

Its president must have a systemic perspective that cuts across the multiple branches of bioethics. I hope to help steer our field towards grappling with the emerging issues that will shape the future of biomedicine and impact the well-being of humanity.

What will be your priority themes in your new position?

For decades, bioethics has focused on the delivery of health care to individual patients and the protection of participants in research studies. I hope to promote a broader vision of bioethics that includes collective considerations. This is a timely topic as we emerge from a pandemic that has shown us the critical importance of public health and how we are all interconnected.

For example, we should consider what ethical frameworks should guide our public health policies: what an equitable distribution of resources amounts to, what global justice demands of rich countries, how the climate crisis will impact human health, what bioethical principles should be applied in addressing it, and how AI should be incorporated into health care and biomedical research.

Can your appointment help promote bioethics here?

I intend to stay in close contact with the Canadian bioethics community and to continue collaborating with Université de Montréal. UdeM’s School of Public Health is a leader in bioethics in the French-speaking world. It is one of the few institutions in Canada to offer a graduate program in bioethics and the only one to offer master's and doctoral degrees specifically in bioethics.

My appointment as president of The Hastings Center is a strategic opportunity for UdeM to connect with one of the world's leading bioethics research centres, to facilitate research collaborations and exchanges, and to highlight Quebec's unique contribution to bioethics, an innovative and growing global field of study and practice.

On the same subject

appointments ethics public health