Ruth Farrell

Understanding the worlds and spiritual laws that guide prenatal genetic technologies as a pathway to enhance life

Assistant Professor of Surgery
Cleveland Clinic, Obstetrics and Gynecology and Bioethics
Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America

Capstone Conference Talk

Saturday (8/5) 1:30-1:50PM

Understanding the Worlds and Spiritual Laws that Guide Prenatal Genetic

This decade is testament to the power of biotechnology to enhance life. The magnitude of scientific achievement is evident in reproductive medicine where information generated by genetic tests enables expectant parents to make pivotal decisions about the pregnancy. Such decisions include the choice to prepare for the birth of a child with a serious medical condition and, in some cases, to end the pregnancy. This presentation will present conception and empirical findings of a study to examine how values and beliefs undergird the translation of new genetic technologies that impact not just those living now but also future generations.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SUNDAY (8/6) 1:00-2:30PM

Drawing the Edges of Human Life

This laboratory session will attempt to bridge our research findings (encompassing technological, social, and moral dimensions) on human enhancements at the beginning and end of life with those normative views, beliefs, and attitudes operating in the public sphere. Which narratives about enhancement achieve valence? Which “publics” participate? How does the definition of “health” draw margins and borders of fitness that implicate resource allocation, justice, and disparity? Are the margins changing? To what extent can notions of human flourishing, the awe of life, and living finite life to its fullest move and shift the normative boundaries and expectations for the beginning and end of life that predominate our technology-driven cultures?

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Dr. Ruth Farrell is Staff in the Departments of OB/GYN and Bioethics and the Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. She is Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and faculty affiliate of the Center for Genetic Research Ethics and Law (CGREAL) at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Farrell is the Ethics Thread Leader for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and works in collaboration with the medical humanities program to develop the ethics curriculum for the medical school. Her research investigates the challenges faced by healthcare providers and patients with the clinical translation of new genetic technologies and has been funded by grants from the NIH and the March of Dimes. She has served on the ethics committees for several preeminent professional organizations in women’s health and lectures locally and nationally on a range of issues related to reproductive medicine, genetics, bioethics, and health policy.

Dr. Farrell received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and a M.A. in Bioethics from Case Western Reserve University. She received her M.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and completed a residency in OB/GYN at University Hospitals of Cleveland. After her residency, she completed a Greenwall Fellowship in Bioethics and Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Berman Bioethics Institute and the Georgetown Kennedy Institute of Ethics. She continued her training as a NIH KL2/Multidisciplinary Clinical Translational Research Scholar at the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University. 

Project Executive Summary

Advances in prenatal genetic technology raise some of the most profound questions about enhancing life at the very beginning stages of human existence. The newest prenatal genetic tests can now determine a volume of detailed information about a child before birth from a single sample of a pregnant woman’s blood. Decisions made in response to this information may have significant and far-reaching implications. The problem, however, is that all of this technology has outstripped our ability to decide if we should access such information, if it will actually improve the human condition, and what to do with the information once we have it. With such capability comes the critical need for understanding and reflection on the different counter worlds that can result from the full potential of prenatal genetic technologies and the spiritual laws directing the course of prenatal science to achieve or avoid those visions.

This project will utilize a combination of conceptual and empirical analysis of factors and forces that drive the development of new prenatal genetic technologies. Our approach is innovative as it will weave stakeholders’ narratives with existing theories and scholarship in philosophy, religious studies, and clinical ethics. This study is significant because, by using prenatal genetic technologies as a lens, it will give insight into the key questions posed by the Enhancing Life Project. Additionally, this work will have important relevance to prenatal genetic scientists and physicians by providing needed guidance about how to engage expectant parents and families in the technological process.