Consortium Introduction

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.

Latest News

Field of corn

The Unfulfilled Promise of Corn-based Biofuels

July 28, 2016

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.  

Logo for the Americans with Disabilities Act

Disability and End-of-life Medical Options

July 26, 2016

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 It was withdrawn before a vote was taken, but is expected to be introduced again during the next session, which begins in January, 2017. 

Illustration of egg and sperm

Weak Sperm Bank Regulations Cause Havoc for Some Users

July 25, 2016

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.  

Arrest disparities in the Twin Cities map

U Professors Shine a Spotlight on Racial Disparities

July 21, 2016

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

Videos of 2015-16 Events Now Available

Stacy Kahn

During the 2015-16 academic year, the Consortium presented a lecture series on cutting-edge issues in microbiota therapeutics; this year's Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine on the topic of race, bias and health disparities; and a national conference on research ethics. Click on the following links to view videos: 

Microbiome Research & Microbiota Therapeutics 

2016 Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine
Lessons from Ferguson and Beyond: Bias, Health & Justice, Prof. Sidney D. Watson, JD

Scott Kim asking question

Research Ethics Conference
Videos for all sessions of the December, 2015 national conference on Research with Human Participants are available here, including talks by Jeffrey R. Botkin, MD, MPH; Scott Y. H. Kim, MD, PhD; Vanessa Northington Gamble, MD, PhD; and panels on challenges in informed consent, conflicts of interest, and research with vulnerable populations.