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Greer Donley

 2L's bioethics article examines "the most controversial topic in the next 20 years"

By Clarissa Sansone
Nov. 16, 2012

Alexander Pope warned that "a little learning is a dangerous thing," but learning too much too quickly has its pitfalls as well.

In the near future, parents-to-be could opt to have prenatal whole genome sequencing performed, which means they could know about every gene their child would possess, even though much of this genetic information is not yet fully understood. The ethical questions raised by making this deluge of information available has prompted renowned bioethicist Arthur Kaplan to predict that prenatal whole genome sequencing will be "the most controversial topic in the next 20 years."

It was this topic that Greer Donley, a 2L, researched and wrote about during a two-year pre-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. The paper, "Prenatal Whole Genome Sequencing: Just Because We Can, Should We?" was published by The Hastings Center and coauthored by Donley, Sara Chandros Hull, and Benjamin Berkman—Donley's mentor at the NIH, and a 2005 MLaw graduate. (It was Berkman, in fact, who encouraged Donley to attend Michigan Law: "I had a wonderful experience at Michigan and thought that it would be a great fit for someone like Greer," he said.)

To Berkman, Donley "was a wonderful example of how a student can quickly develop into a scholar." Donley said that during her fellowship, she learned "how to have initiative and take up my own research projects," seeing an idea through from inception to publication.

The idea for researching the bioethics of prenatal whole genome sequencing was hers. Despite the significant implications of the subject, "no one had written on it," Donley said. Most of what existed was "futuristic forecasting" from the past 20 years, which cited films like Gattaca: "I wanted to write a paper talking about the real (and soon to be realized) ethical issues this technology presents, from reproductive decision making to informed consent," she added.

Donley has continued writing on the topic at Michigan Law. She hopes to turn her Reproductive Justice term paper—which considers the constitutionality of legislative bans on abortions stemming from this information—into a published note.

Donley's paper on prenatal whole genome sequencing has already proven its timeliness and worth: It was cited several times in an October 2012 report of The President's Commission on Bioethics, and mentioned on the Fox News website. Donley says of her subject: "The paper has already taken off, and I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. In the next five years, this very topic is going to be huge."

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