May 26, 2024

President’s Council on Bioethics criticises President

Outgoing Council members defend Bush’s record

Under the Bush Administration, the President’s Council on Bioethics produced
some fine background papers on highly complex and contentious issue. Under
President Obama, the Council ought to be twiddling its thumbs and counting the
days until its mandate runs out in September. Instead, 10 of the 18 Council
members, plus its chairman, have openly attacked Mr Obama’s stem cell policy.

Writing on the website of the Hastings Center, a well-known bioethics
thinktank, they raise three concerns:

First, that Obama’s description of his predecessor’s policy was
incorrect. Bush, they said, did not ban federal funding; he endorsed it, as long
as the stem cell lines had been created before August 2001. Whether he
succeeded or not, his aim was deeply moral – "to find a way to reconcile the
need for research with the moral concerns people have."

Second, although Bush’s policy was severely criticised by many scientists
as they became more and more impatient to create fresh stem cell lines, the
council members believe that it more or less succeeded. Not just ethically, but
scientifically. Before Bush left office, a revolutionary development was
announced, induced pluripotent stem cells, which function as well as embryonic
stem cells, but come without their ethical baggage.

"With respect to the progress that had been made in reconciling the needs of
research and the moral concerns of many Americans, we can only judge, therefore,
that the president’s action has taken a step backward, and we regret that," they

Third, the council members are sceptical about the President’s opposition
to cloning. They note that while he closes the door to reproductive cloning, his
administration may allow so-called therapeutic cloning. (The guidelines are
being drafted at the moment.) If this happens, embryos will be created in order
to be destroyed: "the government would find itself in the unsavory position of
designating a class of embryos that it would be a felony not to destroy," they
write. "We cannot believe that this would advance our society’s commitment to
equal human dignity."

In a separate statement, the chairman, Edmund D. Pellegrino, writes, "As an
individual council member, speaking for myself and not the President’s Council
on Bioethics, I support the substance of the objections of some council members
to recent relaxation of existing policies regarding human embryonic stem cell
research. Ethically, I cannot support any policy permitting deliberate
production and/or destruction of a human fetus or embryo for any purpose,
scientific or therapeutic."

The ten Council members who signed the commentary are: Gilbert Meilaender,
Paul McHugh, Benjamin Carson, Nicholas Eberstadt, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Alfonso
Gómez-Lobo, William Hurlbut, Donald Landry, Peter Lawler, and Diana Schaub. ~ Bioethics
Forum, Mar 25