- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

The presidents Council on Bioethics is neither opposed to science nor calling for a new prohibition on biotechnology, the groups chairman said.
"The attitude here is not, 'How we are going to stop this," Dr. Leon R. Kass said of the 18-member panel. "The attitude is, 'First of all, lets understand where we are going and what this is doing to us."
Despite the councils broader social mission, its divided recommendation on human cloning has gained the most public attention. The council has a two-year mandate that ends in September 2003.
In July, the panel unanimously urged a ban on "cloning to produce children," but it split 10-7 in recommending a four-year moratorium on human cloning for biomedical research.
Dr. Kass, trained as a medical doctor, said that more is at stake than just a new technology that moves society from procreation to the manufacturing of human beings.
"What is it going to mean to be a human being 50 or 100 years from now?" he asked. "We want people to think about those kinds of things and not just about where a nucleus is being placed into the egg."
The council, set up a year ago when President Bush announced his policy to federally fund only existing stem-cell research on embryos, is the third of its kind since 1997. But in terms of long-term policy, this council may have a continual influence by helping to create a permanent oversight or regulatory body.
"Were just exploring this, but with a sense that something more permanent may be needed that is more than just an advisory council," Dr. Kass said.
So far, the council has heard testimony on how Canada regulates reproductive biotechnology. It expects to hear from British and German officials on the same issues this fall.
"We are just at the beginning of that," Dr. Kass said, emphasizing that the council has no rule-making or enforcement powers. "We are looking at the various systems of regulation in place to see if there are usable models to recommend" for the United States.
Because the council plans to meet about eight times a year and issue more reports, Dr. Kass has expressed his own views in a new book, "Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity."
In the book, he looked at "the promise and peril of biotechnology and new challenges for bioethics," he said, adding that not all council members shared his views.
In his book, Dr. Kass used Aldous Huxleys 1932 novel "The Brave New World" as a measure for the current debate. The novels characters lose their freedoms but gain a high-tech guarantee of health, entertainment and personal contentment through chemical stimulants.
"They do not read, write, think, love or govern themselves," wrote Dr. Kass, who taught ethics and philosophy for 25 years at the University of Chicago. "What matters is bodily health and immediate gratification."
The difference today is that with democracy and technology, America has both freedom and the brave new world, he said. "People can use their freedom to degrade themselves perfectly happily, thank you very much, without even knowing thats happening," he said.
Examples range from the possibility of human cloning to drugs that erase bad memories and enhance performance.With his book and the councils work, he hopes to better describe the role of technology, advocate a "richer bioethics" and clarify terms in the current debate. For example:
*Technology is not about simply the equipment, but a pervasive attitude. "It is a mentality that looks upon life and the world as a problem to be solved rather than as a situation to be experienced or faced," he said. "We now have techniques for everything, even for grieving."
*In the bioethics debate, the nation is not clear on "the human goods we wish to preserve," he writes. "There is more at stake in the biological revolution than just saving life or avoiding death and suffering. Human freedom and dignity also are in the balance."
*For political and funding purposes, scientists have created euphemisms such as "therapeutic cloning" or "nuclear transfer to produce stem cells" for human cloning, but conservatives have used emotionally charged terms such as "farming embryos."
The council proposes that precise terms be used, such as "cloning to produce children" and "cloning for biomedical research."Future policy on new biotechnology, Dr. Kass said, should ensure that "the worst and most degrading possibilities dont happen, or dont happen on a wide enough scale that all kinds of things that are important to everybody will suffer."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide