Campus & Community

Norwegian parliamentarians visit Harvard to learn and to teach

4 min read

Purpose of the Act – The purpose of this Act is to ensure that medical applications of biotechnology are utilised for the benefit of everyone in an inclusive society. This shall be done in accordance with the principles of respect for human dignity, human rights and personal integrity and without any discrimination on the basis of … the ethical norms that form part of our Western cultural heritage.

– [Norwegian] Act of 5 December 2003 No. 100 relating to the application of biotechnology in human medicine, etc.

Faced with upcoming revision of Norway’s law regarding the application of biotechnology in medicine, a group of 10 members of Norway’s parliament came to Cambridge Sept. 27 to spend a day with Harvard stem cell scientists, University administrators, and those involved in the shaping of state and federal stem cell legislation – all to better understand the scientific, legal, ethical, and legislative thicket that is the U.S. stem cell debate.

The visit to the University followed a day in Washington, during which the Norwegian lawmakers met with Senate staffers and with the chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics.

At Harvard, the delegation also attended a Center for Human Stem Cell Therapy Symposium at the Medical School’s New Research Building.

“They wanted to know how ethical, political, legislative, and even administrative issues would ultimately impact the work of their scientists,” explained Brock Reeve, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). “They were particularly interested in the intersection of University and federal research administration and the public legal and policy debates.”

The Norwegians were not the first such group to come to Harvard to meet with members of the HSCI Executive Committee – which is made up of scientists from a number of Harvard-affiliated hospitals – and University administrators involved in the regulation of stem cell research. Just a week earlier, a group of members of Britain’s Parliament paid a similar visit, seeking, said Reeve, “to be better informed about the science and policy issues related to stem cell research.”

In a daylong series of meetings that began at the Harvard Faculty Club and included sessions at the HSCI offices at 42 Church St. and the Allston Room in the Holyoke Center Arcade, the visiting Norwegian delegation heard presentations on a wide range of topics, including University and government research policy; the National Academy of Sciences’ stem cell research guidelines; the ongoing public debate over the ethics of stem cell research; HSCI’s research and programs; Harvard’s long view of science and plans for the Allston science building; and, of particular interest to the Norwegian delegation, how the University has worked with legislators on Beacon Hill and in Washington to provide input on stem cell legislation and policy.

“We have something really special to offer in that area,” said Associate Provost for Science Kathleen M. Buckley, who was among those who met with the Norwegians. “Our people have really been engaged with the legislators.”

Kevin Casey, senior director of federal and state relations in Harvard’s Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs, and also a presenter, said, “We see a very important value in exchanging information with international visitors on this important and evolving area of research. Because of the intensity of public legislative interest in this field, and the leadership position Harvard has taken by establishing HSCI, it’s critical for Harvard to have a full understanding of international developments scientifically, legislatively, and in the public realm in order to inform our public positions and our interactions with Congress and state legislatures.”

Further, said Casey, “Harvard has a responsibility to provide the best and most current information at its disposal, both scientifically and in terms of oversight, to inform these governmental bodies that are wrestling with the same kinds of issues and problems we’ve faced and continue to face.”