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Human Rights Defender: Laurie Zoloth

ALaurie Zoloth Profile Image Quote: This capacity for justice that's deeply held within religious text, the attention to the poor and to the stranger, the notion of having given core duties is important to me.

Dictionary definitions of bioethics are just fine. But Professor Laurie Zoloth offers an explanation of the field that borders on poetry: "The nature and the goal and the meaning of scientific advance is about preparing the world, it's about maximizing human freedom and maximizing our humanity and extending our capacity to care for the other."

As a bioethicist, Zoloth is fluent and influential in controversial topics most of us stumble over-oncofertility, genetic engineering, stem cell research, cloning, human germ-line interventions, and nanotechnology to name a few. But a key focus of her work, she says, is reproductive justice.

"Women's bodies can be particularly vulnerable because of our responsibilities and our duties around childcare, birth, and pregnancy," says Zoloth, who is president-elect of the American Academy of Religion, a professor at Northwestern University, and director of the Center for Bioethics, Science, and Society. "So for me, hearing the needs of women and hearing the voices of women and ensuring the rights of women to fair and just and equal access to healthcare is core to the work of bioethics."

Her passion for healthcare and human rights may be a by-product of her profession, but they are also rooted in her personal experience as a mother, feminist, and scholar of Jewish studies.

"The free market argument, while it has its place and it's worked out for some, clearly has failed to deliver a world of peace and justice," Zoloth says. "The voice of religion says there has to be areas of human life that are just not subject to the justice of the market. Most of those areas, those other spheres of justice, are ones about love, ones about family, ones about the human body, where those aspects of human life can't be sold and can't be commoditized even in fair ways, because they live outside the language of the exchange. And here we need language about hospitality, about generosity, about abundance, and of love."

Through teaching, publishing, and leading organizations, Zoloth sparks debate and encourages new ways of thinking that can promote social justice and heal the world.