Bioethics, the Constitution, and The Wizard of Oz


Genetic manipulation, cloning organs, and sexual sterilization are no longer science fiction, but results of scientific advancements and dedication by our world’s leading scientists throughout history.

Developments in science have brought our society to advancements not seen by any other people before us. But, with these breakthroughs also comes major questions and controversy over what is ethical and legal in our scientific and medical advances.

To start a discussion about bioethics, the study of controversial issues concerning scientific and medical advances, Doug Mishkin spoke with the MCLA and local community for Constitution Day.

Doug is a lawyer in Venable’s Labor and Employment Group with over 30 years of experience in this profession.

His lecture, titled “The Constitution, Bioethics, and the Wizard of Oz,” dove into how very differently the constitution is interpreted on bioethical cases.

“Technology has taken us to places we have never been,” Mishkin said. “The men who wrote the constitution, they didn’t even know what a telephone is, never mind issues of our time. The interpretation of this document greatly affects the outcomes of controversial, bioethical cases.”

Mishkin wanted students to understand how the constitution and bioethics relates to the movie “The Wizard of Oz.”

He explained even though the book says nothing about a rainbow, when a composer read the book it conjured up the image of a rainbow. It was his interpretation of the text that created the image, so he honored and expanded his mental image by dedicating a song to it.

Mishkin reminded his audience the importance of this event- intellect alone is not sufficient on difficult bioethical cases. We must combine our intellect with our heart and strength of character.

He then proceeded to pull out his guitar and sang “If I Only Had a Brain.” Mishkin believes everything in the lecture can be summed up with this song.

Mishkin described several cases and their outcomes, along with Supreme Court judge’s views from each side of the final decision. He made it clear that he was more interested on what the decisions of the different cases tell us about the individuals and their interpretations over the final decision itself.

Amanda Gilmore, an MCLA student, found the lecture informative and worth coming to.

“I took AP Government last year and it increased my knowledge of the constitution but this really expanded my understanding of it,” she said. “It really opened my eyes of how unfit the justice system can be.”

For example, in Michael H. v. Gerald D., two men were fighting over paternal rights of a child. Michael was more likely to be her biological father due to circumstances, but Gerald was married to the mother of the child at the time of her birth. California law finds that paternity falls to the presumed father, so Gerald won the case without biological evidence.

After explaining the case, Mishkin described the different viewpoints of Justice Scalia and Justice Brennan, two Supreme Court judges of the case. Scalia agreed with the ruling while Brennan believed the decision was too rooted in tradition. He believed there is no need for that California law, which was written in a time much less advanced, when we now have innovations like blood testing.

“What is in your Constitution? How,” Mishkin questioned, “will we deal with what the founding fathers, whose world was far more restricted, signed for us?”