The Consortium conducts original research, serves students and faculty, and advances public dialogue and understanding on emerging issues at the intersection of science and society.
According to an article in Bloomberg, "More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland – improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year." The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which led to mass production of corn-based ethanol, has proven to be sadly ineffectual; in fact, groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation have begun to realize that the use and manufacture of biofuels has had "severe, unintended consequences," partly as a result of the way regulatory regimes were implemented. Despite a political divide between legislators from the Corn Belt and others, a revamped RFS appears to be moving forward in the House of Representatives.
In an editorial in today's MinnPost, Bobbi Jacobsen, who has lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for 20 years, commemorates the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 26 years ago today by calling upon "the leaders of major disability organizations. . . to recognize that we want to be empowered in our end-of-life medical options, too." The article was written to raise awareness and support for Minnesota's Compassionate Care Act, which is modeled on an Oregon law that permits aid in dying but not assisted suicide. Jacobsen notes that the former only applies to terminally ill people: "Medical aid in dying applies to people who want more than anything to live, but a deadly disease is ending their lives." The bill was introduced in the Minnesota state legislature during the last session and was heard by the Senate Health Committee. It was withdrawn before a vote was taken, but is expected to be introduced again during the next session, which begins in January, 2017.
Because frozen sperm is lightly regulated, some users have had their lives upended because of lost vials, misleading donor descriptions, misappropriation, and careless record keeping. An article in the New York Times describes some of the worse cases, in which women have been inseminated with sperm carrying highly heritable, serious illnesses without their knowledge or consent. Bioethicist Arthur Caplan, PhD (New York University) notes, “Even in New York, when they inspect [sperm banks], they’re looking at hygienic conditions not record-keeping. Nobody confirms that you have what you say you have. It’s absurd that we have these materials so valuable that people pay to store them, but we run it like a 19th-century grocery.” While the official position of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine is that no further regulation is needed, several lawsuits are moving forward, and the Donor Sibling Registry has become an crucial resource for families who used the same donor to connect and share information.
In the wake of another fatal police shooting of an African-American man, Philando Castile, who was killed during a traffic stop in a Twin Cities suburb, there's been an increased focus on racial inequities in Minnesota. One of the scholars with the longest history of studying these issues, Myron Orfield, JD, is on the faculty of the University of Minnesota's Law School; since Castile's death, Orfield has been widely interviewed discussing housing segregation, unequal policy enforcement, and other aspects of the state's institutionalized racism. Minnesota suffers from a yawning academic achievement gap between white students and students of color; the worst record of financial inequity in the nation; and a serious problem with socioeconomic and health disparities. A recent lecture hosted by the Consortium, by Prof. Sidney Watson, JD (University of St. Louis Law School) describes tools in the Affordable Care Act to increase health justice; that talk can be viewed online.