Bioethics Council Thoughts

Long time readers will be aware of my opinions on Leon Kass:

If you want to take the interview at face value, Leon Kass is a mystic. He is a modern alchemist. The alchemists of old stood atop what little knowledge of chemistry they had and built a speculative religion of hermetic magic, transient wishes, celestial signs and hidden gold. Leon Kass stands atop what little biotechnology we have today (and seems to have a good grasp thereof), building his own structures of fanciful thought, equally disconnected from the real world.

On the President's Council on Bioethics:

It has recently become very clear the President's Council on Bioethics is nothing more than a rubber stamp intended to justify bans on stem cell medicine, therapeutic cloning and other new medical technologies that anti-abortion groups dislike. Research in these new fields is vital to the development of working regenerative medicine, a field that promises near term cures for a wide array of age-related conditions.

And on bioethics in general for that matter:

Once upon a time, a discipline called "medical ethics" existed and was held in high regard. Medical ethics addressed the subjects of triage and best use of sparse resources in medicine: who to save when you cannot save everyone? New advances in medicine were welcomed and enthusiastically funded, because new and better medical technology meant improvements in health, lifespan and the ability to save more lives.

Somewhere along the way, overstressed, under funded medical ethics - a discipline whose members welcomed new medicines, new therapies and better ways to treat disease - became fat, well-funded "bioethics." Bioethics is concerned with slowing down the advance of medical science with deep philosophical and ethical questions that can only be answered by means of large salaries, hundred million dollar buildings, and political interventions.

In short, medical ethics lost its way and become corrupted by power.

Given all that, I thought I should point you to this update on the Council from Chris Mooney, since we haven't heard anything from that direction for a while.

One of the chief ways in which the council was undermined, of course, was that Bush announced his position on "therapeutic" cloning before the group's report had even come out. Similarly on stem cell research: Bush set the policy, then convened his bieothics council. No wonder the group hasn't had much influence--the president himself doesn't seem to take it seriously.

My position on the council stems from my opposition to regulatory and legislative restrictions on medical research; the Bioethics council was simply a facilitator - a rubber stamp. Kass, Fukuyama and others are welcome to hold their pro-death views and oppose healthy life extension research, but they are not welcome to force the consequences of those views onto the rest of us.


Re: Your thoughts on the president's council.

I question the "near term"itude of those coming cures. Not in my lifetime is more like it (I'm 71). Furthermore, there is no ban on stem cell research. There is a ban on using new strains of fetal cells for research, but that's hardly the same thing, now, is it? If we're going to be talking about ethics, shouldn't we include the precision of our statements as one of the parameters?

My older daughter has just taken a medical ethics course on her way to becoming a Physician's Assistant. Medical ethics is alive and well, and surprisingly moral, too. I say surprisingly, because my second daughter took her ethics class from the Philosophy department, where the basic ethical principle seems to be, "If it feels good, do it!" We've had some interesting discussions.

The medical daughter said that one of the interesting things that came out of her ethics class was the acknowledgement that it really doesn't make any difference on any scale other than one-on-one. If it can be done, it will be done, no matter what "it" may turn out to be. If your ethics won't let you, the next guy's will. You have to judge for yourself what you are willing to live with, but you can't be someone else's conscience.


Posted by: JimT at September 6th, 2004 6:58 PM

There was very nearly - and still may be - a ban on the most promising stem cell medicine by way of banning the technology of therapeutic cloning: a bill criminalizing this research was passed in the house and is still awaiting a vote in the senate. This took place while the Council and Leon Kass were issuing reports and opinions.

This threat has had a strong damping effect on private investment. Similarly, the US is backing efforts to attempt the same sort of ban at the United Nations:

Posted by: Reason at September 6th, 2004 8:07 PM

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