About this site

Welcome to my site. My friends and I created this to share some of my work and - more importantly - to invite an exchange of ideas.

I've been a sociologist for a long time. and ventured into a number of different fields over the years: birth and midwifery (which I still think of as my home base); the new genetics and reproductive technologies; medical sociology; bioethics; issues in disability; adoption; race; and now food studies too. Some of you might know my work in one of these areas, others in a different area. What would be really interesting would be to have people talk, with each other and with me, across areas. I've tried, with some success over the years, to talk to midwives about genetics; to encourage people who do new reproductive technologies to think about home birth; to have bioethicists pay more attention to what medical sociology can offer; to get people in Food Studies thinking where midwifery issues overlap with their concerns. These are invariably the most fun and stimulating conversations I've ever been a part of. Connecting people, connecting ideas, weaving the webs that pull us together - nothing could make me happier. So this site, a gift from my friends, is my place to do this kind of weaving.

We've grouped my work by area - but please, if you're here because you have gotten anything useful out of my work in one area, do poke around for a minute in another. Bring your insights and wisdom and experience to a new place, a new issue. Let's see what we can weave together.

- Barbara Katz Rothman

Article: Stem Cell Research

(See below for link to article)

When I wrote this, Bush was still President and the overwhelming conservative agenda was – well, overwhelming. Everything related to bioethics and medicine was filtered through that lens.

We’re at a different moment now. I just completed my term on an Embryonic Stem Cell Oversight committee, created to do basically compliance reviews of research involving embryonic stem cells. We had to ascertain if proposed research met the standards – used ‘approved cell lines,’ involved appropriate informed consent from donors, etc. It was strange – all those bioethics and IRB (Internal Review Board) things are. We had this odd narrow view, making sure the research met the requirements for embryonic stem cells, and as I say in this article, that’s so tied up in the abortion issue all else fades away.

We found this hard, many of us on the committee, for a variety of reasons. One day I found myself having to approve a project that involved sacrificing many, many mice. I don’t want to kill mice. They’re cute. And harmless. They weren’t even in my kitchen making pests of themselves – they’d been bred specifically to die for science. Do I want their blood on my hands? (Laugh all you want. I had to actually say out loud that it was OK, that the research project passed standards. There’s probably a hell in which I’ll have to explain that to mice) Other people had hard times with projects that maybe did and maybe didn’t come off so clean on the specific embryonic stem cell issues – the project could possibly lead to cures for some horrible disease that little babies were dying of, right across the street in the hospital. You want to say NO to something that just involves cells on a dish because you’re not sure of the origin of the cell line, if it was or wasn’t one of the ones Bush ‘grandfathered’ in? Could you say NO to something that could save little babies’ lives because of a technicality?

I found that committee endlessly difficult – forever arguing about the most trivial of issues while the most significant passed us by, not our purview, someone else’s jurisdiction. But as long as Bush was President, as long as the conservative agenda dominated biomedicine, I felt I had to stick around.

Thanks Obama! I owe you one.


Read article here.