BOLLI Bioethics & Law Course

In a country where baby boomers comprise 26.1% of the population, a commitment to lifelong learning has never been more important – both for the education of a large constituency of voters, and for the health of our nation. Adult learning has been shown to offer protective features against many diseases of aging and has recently become a priority for progressive academic institutions, such as Brandeis University.

At BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Initiative), adult learning is therefore a high priority. During interactive and informative classes, both historical and current issues are studied and debated. The program began in 2000, created to meet the “still unfulfilled demand for educational and intellectual stimulation for adults who are beyond the traditional university years.” In 2004, this Brandeis Adult Learning Institute (BALI) developed into the BOLLI program, “one of 122 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes throughout the nation, offers a broad range of noncredit educational activities for retired, semi-retired and other adult participants. The program emphasizes peer leadership, individual and group participation and research, and an atmosphere of sociability and mutual encouragement.” [2]

This fall, a Bioethics & Law course is being co-taught by Charles Baron, Professor Emeritus of Boston College Law School, and by Milton Heifetz, a retired world-renowned neurosurgeon. Two Brandeis graduate students: Marilana Rufo, a Masters of Philosophy candidate, and Danna Zeiger, a Molecular and Cell Biology PhD Candidate, have enjoyed the opportunity to participate as BOLLI scholars in this Bioethics & Law course. The students of the class range from established lawyers to retired teachers and through a wide variety of ages and experiences. Each class elicits constant fervor over heated debates of scientific topics such as the bioethics of organ transplantation, human experimentation, and genetics and the law. In the genetics and law class, led by Danna Zeiger, the discussion was focused specifically on embryonic stem cell and embryo selection. Both of these controversial issues have been recently relevant in legal contexts, such as in the court-mandated freeze on stem cell research. Interesting legal issues, such as the restrictions of defects in embryos selected for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the range of genetic defects known, and defects which are culturally controversial, such as deafness, were discussed and such legal cases were studied and debated. These issues are often hard for lay-voters to decipher and the BOLLI program affords the opportunity for adults from the community to learn about and discuss these often-jargon-filled but interesting controversies. To learn more or to become involved in the BOLLI program, see

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