Senior Research Scholar
Erik Parens is a senior research scholar at The Hastings Center and Director of the Center’s Initiative in Bioethics and the Humanities. He has taught bioethics as an adjunct professor in the Science, Technology, and Society programs at Vassar and Sarah Lawrence, as well as in the Master of Bioethics program at Harvard.
Since his undergraduate days, Parens has studied the efforts of philosophers, novelists, and poets to understand what it is like to be a person. Since his arrival at Hastings almost 30 years ago, he has also studied the efforts of geneticists and neuroscientists to explain why persons behave as we do. His aspiration, which he began to articulate in his 2015 book Shaping Our Selves, is to bring together humanistic understanding and scientific explanation, for the sake of comprehending persons in depth. His hope is that comprehending persons in depth can contribute to showing all persons the respect and care they deserve.
While at Hastings, Parens has conducted a wide range of collaborative and interdisciplinary projects. Currently he is Principal Investigator on a project called “Wrestling with Social and Behavioral Genomics” (funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation). That project brings researchers, who use genomics to study social outcomes as complex as educational attainment, into dialogue with some of their fiercest critics. He also currently directs a project called “The Art of Flourishing: Conversations on Disability” (funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities), which seeks to broadcast the basic but profound idea that, with supportive environments, people can flourish in all sorts of bodyminds.
His past projects have addressed a wide range of conceptual and normative controversies, including in the context of using: prenatal genetic testing to identify disabling traits in fetuses; surgery to normalize the appearance of children with atypical anatomies, and various biotechnologies to enhance the traits and capacities of children and adults. His projects have also taken up a wide range of empirical controversies, including in the context of what neuroimaging can—and cannot—reveal about the nature of human experience and in the context of the psychosocial impacts that genetic information does—and does not—have on the recipients of such information. His work has resulted in publications in university presses such as Oxford, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown, as well as in numerous academic journals and in general-interest publications, including Scientific American, Aeon, and the New York Times.
Parens is a founding member of Columbia University’s NIH-funded Center for Excellence in Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of the Human Genome Project and is a Fellow of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He has served as a consultant to several government and nongovernmental bodies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, and the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
Parens received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and his B.A. from Chicago’s Committee on General Studies in the Humanities.
Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston (Eds.), Human Flourishing in an Age of Gene Editing, Oxford University Press, 2019.
Erik Parens, Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing, and a Habit of Thinking, Oxford University Press, 2015.
Erik Parens, ed., Surgically Shaping Children: Technology, Ethics and the Pursuit of Normality, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Erik Parens, Audrey Chapman, and Nancy Press, eds., Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics: Science, Ethics and Public Conversation, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
Erik Parens and Adrienne Asch, eds., Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights, Georgetown University Press, 2000.
Erik Parens, ed., Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications, Georgetown University Press, 1998.
Selected Special Reports
Joel Michael Reynolds and Erik Parens, eds., For “All of Us”? On the Weight of Genomic Knowledge, special report, Hastings Center Report 50, no. 3 (2020).
Erik Parens and Paul Appelbaum, eds., Looking for the Psychosocial Implications of Genomic Information, special report Hastings Center Report 49, no. 3 (May-June 2019): S1-S96.
Erik Parens and Paul Appelbaum, eds., The Genetics of Intelligence: Ethics and the Conduct of Trustworthy Research, Hastings Center Report 45, no. 5 (2015): S1-72.
Josephine Johnston and Erik Parens, eds., Interpreting Neuroimages: An Introduction to the Technology and It’s Limits” Hastings Center Report 45, no. 2 (2014): S1-S52.
Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston, eds., Troubled Children: Diagnosing, Treating, and Attending to Context, Hastings Center Report 41, no. 2 (2011); S1-S31.
Erik Parens, Genetic Differences and Human Identities: Why Talking about Behavioral Genetics Is Important and Difficult, Hastings Center Report 34, no. 1 (2004): S1-S36.
Erik Parens and Adrienne Asch, “The Disability Rights Critique of Prenatal Genetic Testing: Reflections and Recommendations,” Hastings Center Report 29, no. 4 (1999): S1-S21.
Erik Parens, Is Better Always Good? The Enhancement Project, Hastings Center Report 28, no. 1 (1998): S1-S20.
Selected Commentaries and Reviews
Erik Parens, “Will Socio-genomics Reduce Social Inequality?” Bioethics Forum Sept. 30, 2021.
Erik Parens, “The Genes We’re Dealt,” Aeon, November 10, 2020.
Erik Parens, “The Inflated Promise of Genomic Medicine,” Scientific American, June 1, 2020.
Erik Parens, “Bioethicists Are More Like Bricoleurs than Engineers: Reflections on Fredrik Svenaeus’ Phenomenological Bioethics,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 28, no. 4 (2019): 479-86.
Erik Parens, “Made to Order,” Aeon, November 11, 2015.
Erik Parens, “The Benefits of ‘Binocularity,’” New York Times, September 28, 2014.
Erik Parens, “Do Think Twice: Kramer and Shenk on Depression,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 2007; 50 (2): 295-307.
Selected Scholarly Articles
Erik Parens, “Choosing Flourishing: Toward a More ‘Binocular’ Way of Thinking about Disability,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 27, no. 2 (2017): 135-50.
Erik Parens, “Drifting Away from Informed Consent in the Era of Personalized Medicine,” Hastings Center Report 2015; 45 (4): 16-20.
Erik Parens, “On Good and Bad Forms of Medicalization,” Bioethics 2013; 27 (1): 28-35.
Seth J. Gillihan and Erik Parens, “Should We Expect ‘Neural Signatures’ for DSM Diagnoses?” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, March 18, 2011.
Erik Parens, “The Ethics of Memory Blunting and the Narcissism of Small Differences,” Neuroethics 2010; 3 (2): 99-107.
Erik Parens and J. Johnston, “Does It Make Sense to Speak of ‘Neuroethics’?” EMBO Reports 8, Special Issue (2007): S61-64.
Erik Parens, “Authenticity and Ambivalence: Toward Understanding the Enhancement Debate,” Hastings Center Report 35, no. 3 (2005): 34-41.
Erik Parens, “The Pluralist Constellation” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 1995, pp. 197 – 206. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963180100005892
Selected Public Events
Introduction to Event 1 of Public Conversations Series, “The Art of Flourishing: Conversations on Disability.” December 3, 2019. Watch the video.
Testimony at National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine, Committee on Human Gene Editing. Washington, D.C., July 12, 2016. Watch the video (row 2, column 3).
Lecture, “Embracing Binocularity in our Conversations ABOUT Enhancement.” Center for Bioethics, Belgrade Serbia, December 17, 2015. Relevant portion starts at 35:00.