Ruth Farrell

Research Project Title: 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

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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. 

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.