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PAHEF and PAHO Honor Chilean for Excellence in Bioethics

WASHINGTON, DC (September 18, 2012) – Dr. Juan Alberto Lecaros Urzúa, a Chilean bioethicist, was honored last night with the 2012 Manuel Velasco Suárez Award for Excellence in Bioethics for his proposal, A theoretical framework and a methodology for the application of principles of environmental bioethics. The award was jointly presented by Dr. Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, chair of the board of directors of the Pan American Health and Education Foundation, and Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, director of the Pan American Health Organization at a special event in Washington, DC. The award carries a grant of US$10,000 to support Dr. Urzúa’s proposed work.

Dr. Urzúa’s proposal presents a theoretical framework and methodology that will be used to consider the current debate in Chile regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), focusing on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. His project seeks to consider the human health, ecological, and socio-economic risks of GMOs. Such an analysis of this problem could be potentially useful to other Latin American countries that have not yet defined their national policies on GM crops and foods.

Dr. Urzúa is a professor of environmental ethics and human rights at the Borjas Institute of Bioethics (Institut Borjas de Bioética, IBB) of the Ramon Llull University (Universitat Ramon Llull) in Barcelona, Spain. He is also the coordinator of the Bioethics and Rights Observatory of the Bioethics Center of the School of Clinical Medicine at the Development University of Santiago, Chile (Observatorio de Bioética y Derecho del Centro de Bioética de la Facultad de Medicina Clínica Alemana-Universidad del Desarrollo de Santiago de Chile). Dr. Urzúa has focused his career on environmental bioethics. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) in Spain, a master in bioethics from the IBB, and a law degree from the University of Chile (Universidad de Chile).

“This award provides important support for research on a postponed area of bioethics: ecological ethics, which reflects on the ethical sense of the interdependence between individual human life, social life, and other life in the biosphere,” said Dr. Urzúa.

Don I. Tharpe, PAHEF chief executive officer and president, remarked, “We are honored to present this award to such an accomplished leader in bioethics. Dr. Urzúa has dedicated his career to studying bioethics and the environment. His proposal, which explores the application of bioethics principles on a practical issue such as the introduction of transgenic crops in Chile, is critical for the society to address.”

The Manuel Velasco Suárez Award for Excellence in Bioethics was created in 2002 to promote the study and research of bioethics in the region. The Secretary of Health of Mexico and PAHEF, in cooperation with PAHO, created this award to honor Dr. Manuel Velasco Suárez, a Mexican national, who was a physician, researcher, and scholar. With more than 50 years dedicated to public health, he helped develop many important initiatives and was a founder of the Mexican Academy of Bioethics. The award is one of six in the PAHO/PAHEF Awards for Excellence in Inter-American Public Health Program, which was established in 1975.

About PAHEF: The Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) is dedicated to improving health in the Americas through health promotion, education, and training. Founded in 1968, PAHEF is a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) public charity that works with the PAHO and other strategic partners in the Americas to mobilize resources and jointly address key health, education, and training priorities. With a deep knowledge of major health concerns and strong relationships with key stakeholders in the region, PAHEF builds successful partnerships and projects that advance health in the Americas. For more information regarding PAHEF, please visit:

About PAHO: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest international public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the hemisphere and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO). For more information regarding PAHO/WHO, please visit:

About the Awards: The PAHO/PAHEF Awards for Excellence in Inter-American Public Health, established in 1975, honor dedicated professionals who led the way in advancing health conditions in the Americas during the last century. The awards stimulate the growth of the next and rising generation of leaders working together to improve health and health care in the Americas. For each award, a jury of distinguished public health professionals is convened to review the nominations and recommend a winning candidate to the board of directors of PAHEF for approval.

A Sample of Recent PAHEF Projects in the Region