Health Equity, History, and a New Presidential Bioethics Commission: Lessons from the “Lost” Reports

Laura Kolbe, Joseph J. Fins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Convening a national bioethics commission has historically been one of the most powerful bioethical legacies a US presidential administration can undertake. The Biden Administration has not yet created such a commission; here we argue that centering health equity and healthcare access would provide a vital framework for a new commission’s legacy. Moreover, we demonstrate two crucial historical episodes when American presidents appointed commissions to examine the practical and ethical implications of these very issues. We turn first to the 1952 President’s Commission report on “Building America’s Health,” a lofty vision of universal healthcare access stymied by both political conflict and unaddressed problems of racism in the era’s legislation. Its rich yet incomplete account of American health inequities serves as a valuable forerunner to questions of justice in bioethics. We then explore the President’s Commission’s 1983 report “Securing Access to Healthcare: A Report on the Ethical Implications of Differences in the Availability of Health Services.” This report took up the mantle of equity in healthcare access, again with mixed results. Only by understanding the checkered history of these overlooked, practically “lost” reports can a new era in American bioethics successfully re-center the goal of equitable health for all.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3471-3474
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of General Internal Medicine
Issue number13
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Advisory Committees
  • Bioethical Issues
  • Bioethics
  • Health Equity
  • Humans
  • Public Policy
  • United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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