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Rao - bioethicist

SIU School of Law’s Ryan Bioethicist Lecture to examine future of reproductive rights

Published Date:

Radhika Rao, a law professor who has written extensively about reproductive rights, will deliver the 2023 John and Marsha Ryan Bioethicist in Residence lecture at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 9 at the SIU School of Medicine.

Rao, a professor and the Harry and Lillian Hastings Research Chair at the UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, will present “Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: Roe, Dobbs and Future of Abortion." The lecture is free and open to the public. 

Rao said that the focus of her lecture will be a critique of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs decision and its “cramped, archaic vision of looking to history in 1868 to determine our fundamental rights, its denial of equality to women, minorities and the poor, and the polarizing impact it is having on our country, in terms of abortion laws.”

She will also describe the history of cases leading up to Dobbs, including 1973's Roe v. Wade and the 1992 Casey decision, and discuss the possible implications of Dobbs for the future.

Rao’s publications include “Property, Privacy, and the Human Body;” “Equal Liberty: Assisted Reproductive Technology and Reproductive Equality;” “Informed Consent, Body Property, and Self-Sovereignty;” and “Selective Reduction: ‘A Soft Cover for Hard Choices’ or Another Name for Abortion?” She earned her law degree from Harvard Law School and was Supreme Court editor of the Harvard Law Review. Rao also clerked for Supreme Court Justices Harry Blackmun and Thurgood Marshall.

Rao will also visit with students while at the SIU School of Law. On March 9, she will present the lecture at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. It is open to faculty, learners, staff and the general public.

Longstanding lecture series

This is the School of Law’s 18th bioethicist-in-residence lecture, and the 16th since John C. and Dr. Marsha G. Ryan endowed the visiting lecture series. Founded in 2006, the John and Marsha Ryan Bioethicist-in-Residence program supports an annual residence and lecture by a law or medicine ethics scholar for the SIU schools of law and medicine. This is the first in-person bioethicist lecture since 2020; the previous two have been virtual.

Marsha Ryan earned her law degree from the SIU School of Law in 1987 and is an assistant professor at the SIU School of Medicine and adjunct faculty member teaching bioethics at the law school. She practiced general and breast surgery in Carbondale for 36 years until her retirement in 2017. John Ryan, a member of the law school’s inaugural class, is a longstanding attorney at Feirich, Green, Mager, Ryan in Carbondale.

Timely topic

The bioethics lectures are designed to be timely and put into focus the ways in which law and medicine interact. This year’s lecture is no different, Marsha Ryan said. The Dobbs decision, which essentially said reproductive rights are a matter for each state to decide, leaves “50 different answers as to the question of what are the ethical implications of abortion and what kind of restrictions should there be,” she said.

That, Ryan notes, goes to the question of “When do we become human? Is it at the time of conception, as some believe, or the time of birth, as others believe, or is it somewhere in between?” The Roe decision, “put us in the middle.” There also could be a question of restricting travel for women seeking abortions, though that hasn’t been tested yet, Ryan said.

“None of the subjects we deal with in bioethics is simple. They are all complex, and there are multiple sides to each discussion,” Ryan said. “In the name of understanding and analytical thinking, it pays to hear all sides of the question, and we want to put these complex issues out into the public for what will be a thoughtful discussion.”

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