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Science, Policy, and the Dickey-Wicker Amendment (Part 2)

By Cathryn Smeyers

This is the final installment in a two-part blog story featuring Oncofertility Consortium member, Gregory Dolin, MD, JD, focusing on his recent Oncofertility Virtual Grand Rounds presentation. To read the 1st blog, click here.

In his presentation, Dr. Dolin highlighted some of the problems that exist within the legislative process that make it even harder for scientific issues to be successfully conveyed to lawmakers.  According to Dr. Dolin, the hearing process, which many assume involves full congressional engagement, the presentation of relevant information and lively debate, is often more like “kabuki theater.”  Only invited participants are allowed to testify, hearings are rarely and sparsely attended, and the chairman has a nearly complete control of the agenda and the text of any proposal discussed.  Furthermore, after the hearing, much work is done by the staff in secret, the House Rules Committee can amend or rewrite the bill in any way it sees fit, floor debates may be very limited, and Conference Committees once again have the opportunity to amend or rewrite the bill outside of public view.

So what’s the solution?  How can we ensure that the people in control of federal dollars are scientifically literate and well informed?  Dr. Dolin proposes the creation of an objective body of scientific advisors charged with evaluating all proposed bills and advising Congress of the likely effect of legislation.  This body would also have to solicit scientific input from members of the public, which would allow scientists to register their opinions.  Models of this currently exist in the form of the Congressional Budget Office and the late Office of Technology Assessment. The creation of such an office, however, is just a proposal, and we are unlikely to see it realized in the near future.  In the interim, Dr. Dolin advises that scientists involve themselves in the legislative process and do what they can to ensure that Congress hears and understands complex scientific research.

The Oncofertility Consortium whole-heartedly agrees with Dr. Dolin, and we feel that Dickey-Wicker underscores the necessity for scientists to not only have a voice in the political sphere but to be adept communicators who can appropriately relay complex scientific information to a lay audience.  We hope our blog, for example, allows us to relay scientific research in a way that is both comprehensible and meaningful to our readers. Repropedia (www.repropedia.org) is another tool that we use to clearly communicate scientific information.

Repropedia is a website that is edited by scientists across the globe and serves as an authoritative source of definitions for reproductive health terms. This site directly interacts with other website by providing pop-up definition boxes, so a reader gets the information in context.  Our blog serves as the perfect example!  Of course, we couldn’t let Dr. Dolin go without contributing to this valuable resource. He kindly agreed to contribute a video definition of the term “parthenote,” and we sincerely hope that the general public (Congress included!) will benefit from his explanation.  In the end, it is exactly this kind of clear communication by the scientific community that will educate the public and inform public policy.

Click here to see Dr. Dolin’s Repropedia definition.  Click here to read the chapter he co-authored in the second Oncofertility book, Oncofertility: Ethical, Legal, Social, and Medical Perspectives, entitled, “Medical Hope, Legal Pitfalls: Potential Legal Issues in the Emerging Field of Oncofertility,” and look for his contribution to the fourth Oncofertility book due out later this year entitled, Oncofertility Communication: Sharing Information and Building Relationships across Disciplines.

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