The Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy

Mission and History 

Founded in 1996 by Jose Barzelatto and Stephen Isaacs as the Center for Health and Social Policy, the Center changed leadership and its name in 2012. Its new president Frances Kissling brings extensive experience in reproductive health, faith, and civil conversation and dialogue. Ethics was added to the name to highlight the Center’s contribution to ethical practices in health care.

Since its inception in 1996, the Center has worked to advance policies that improve health and the social and economic factors that affect it. Emphasizing ethics, service delivery and policy change, the Center focuses on, and has recognized expertise in, sexual and reproductive health, civil conversation and dialogue, and  women’s rights. It has given special attention to mitigating the negative social consequences of globalization and to improving women's status. Its emphasis on ethics and policy development allows for work in a variety of relevant areas such as religion, human rights, health care delivery and systems of governance that affect policy decisions and outcomes.

The Center carries out its mission by a number of means: publications (both scholarly and popular), workshops that educate and train health professionals regarding the role of values and ethics in health care, and convening leaders of disparate (primarily non-governmental) groups to discuss social issues in which they have a common interest.

Summary of Programs

The Center’s staff played an important role in influencing the direction taken by the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994. Stephen Isaacs was on the steering committee that organized the NGO Forum that was held parallel to the ICPD. Prior to the ICPD, he organized a conference on ethics, population, and reproductive health attended by prominent ethicists, policy makers, and religious leaders. José Barzelatto was instrumental in organizing a similar conference of religious leaders that took place in Genval, Belgium. Frances Kissling then president of Catholics for Choice was influential in efforts to understand and counter Vatican positions at the conference. Both conferences concluded with strong declarations – the consensus of some of the world’s ethical and religious leaders – that proved to be influential in combating fundamentalists’ attacks on the draft ICPD Programme of Action as immoral or anti-religious.

The Center has organized with the Universidad Externado de Colombia, a meeting of Latin American Parliamentarians on Induced Abortion; as well as, a large conference of Latin American political leaders on the critical social issues of unwanted pregnancy, AIDS, and domestic violence. The Center has founded, in collaboration with CEPIA in Brazil, the Civil Society Forum of the Americas that brings together leaders of human rights, health, women, environment, peace, and other groups working to better their societies. The Center has also held a series of training workshops on reproductive health and rights for the top leadership of China’s State Family Planning Commission to help them as they move to a program based on reproductive choice and currently works with various NGOs on values exploration and health care ethics. This includes IPPF-WHR, PSI, Women Deliver and the Mexican Ministry of Health.

In the area of Women, Development and Faith, the Center, in collaboration with the World Peace Council convened an international meeting of religious and women’s rights leaders resulting in the Chiang Mai Declaration. In 2012, in collaboration with Women Deliver and the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, the Center sponsored a consultation on family planning and faith at the Women Deliver meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

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