More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Bush's Advisers on Ethics Discuss Human Cloning

Bush's Advisers on Ethics Discuss Human Cloning

January 18, 2002

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 President Bush's newly appointed Council on Bioethics, a collection of 18 doctors, legal and ethical scholars, scientists and a journalist, met for the first time today and plunged into the thorny issue of human cloning, which Mr. Bush has said he opposes for any reason.

The president's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, restated that opposition this morning, just as Mr. Bush's ethics advisers were gathering in a hotel ballroom across town from the White House. After the panel adjourned, Mr. Bush received its members in a private meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

"You can help be the conscience of the country," the president said, according to a transcript of the session released by the White House.

Mr. Bush said the panel would help people "come to grips with how medicine and science interface" with "the dignity of life, and the notion that life is you know, that there is a Creator."

In stepping into the cloning controversy, the panel is taking on two questions: whether cloning should be used to make babies that are, essentially, genetic replicas of adults, and the more complex question of whether scientists should clone embryos to obtain cells that might treat disease.

This second question pits scientists and patients advocates against some religious leaders and conservatives, who oppose the work because it involves destroying embryos.

The council is beginning its deliberations as these issues are about to burst back into the news. On Friday morning, the National Academy of Sciences is expected to release a report on the medical and scientific aspects of cloning. At the same time, the Senate is considering legislation, passed by the House of Representatives and backed by Mr. Bush, that would ban all cloning.

Despite the press of events, the panel's chairman, Dr. Leon R. Kass, a bioethicist who has written papers strongly opposing cloning, set no timetable today for the panel to issue a report.

Dr. Kass, who is on leave from the University of Chicago and is now affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research institution, said that he felt obliged to "take up the policy options," but wanted a thorough discussion, not a rushed one.

"We are not going to be driven by the need to feed into the Senate's debate," he said.

The council, whose members were named by the White House late Wednesday afternoon, was created by President Bush in August as part of his decision announcing limited federal financing for human embryonic stem cell research, an issue closely intertwined with cloning.

Critics are complaining about the council's makeup, noting that 14 of its 18 members are men and that most are white. Advocacy groups for patients are particularly upset because the White House did not name any such advocates to the panel.

"These are questions that involve delicate balancing of costs and benefits," said Peter Van Etten, president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, "and understanding the benefits is critically important. The patients bring that. When the decisions are made, that voice will not be there."

While Mr. Van Etten said his group had not lobbied for a council member favoring its views, , representatives for the actor Christopher Reeve, who is paralyzed as a result of a spinal cord injury, reportedly did press the White House to include him.

In opening today's meeting, Dr. Kass said that while the panel's work was delayed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, those events had also created a new moral seriousness in the nation.

"It has been a long time," he said, "since the climate and mood of the country was this hospitable for serious moral reflection."

At times, today's session seemed more like a graduate seminar at a university than a meeting of a government body.

As an icebreaker, Dr. Kass scheduled a discussion of a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne called "The Birthmark," a tale of a scientist who marries a beautiful woman with a tiny blemish on her left cheek and then kills her in trying to remove it.

From there, the conversation ran the gamut, from debate over whether parents seeking egg donors should take the donors' SAT tests into account, to whether making babies the old-fashioned way by sexual intercourse between a man and a woman has any intrinsic worth.

There was little consensus on any of these matters, although most panelists seemed opposed to making babies by cloning, which Gilbert C. Meilaender, a professor of Christian ethics at Valparaiso University, described as "a natural repulsion."

One member, Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post and the only nonacademic on the panel, warned that scientists were on the verge of "creating a class of superhumans."

Another, Janet D. Rowley, a molecular geneticist at the University of Chicago, insisted that Mr. Krauthammer's vision was 100 years away, and urged the members to focus on more pressing scientific concerns.

A third member, William B. Hurlbut, a biologist at Stanford University, delivered an impassioned speech about the meaning of life.

"Where do we get our minds?" Dr. Hurlbut asked. "What does constitute the meaningful reality of our lives?"

At the end, Dr. Kass declared, "This has been a day of experiment."

The session will continue on Friday.

The following are the members of the council:

Dr. Kass, committee chairman, bioethicist, professor, University of Chicago.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, professor, biochemistry and biophysics, University California at San Francisco.

Dr. Stephen Carter, law professor, Yale University.

Dr. Rebecca Dresser, law professor, Washington University.

Dr. Daniel Foster, chairman of internal medicine department, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

Dr. Francis Fukuyama, professor of international political economy, Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, director, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College.

Dr. Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence, Princeton University.

Dr. Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, professor of metaphysics and moral philosophy, Georgetown University.

Dr. Mary Ann Glendon, professor of law, Harvard University.

Dr. Hurlbut, consulting professor in human biology, Stanford.

Mr. Krauthammer, columnist, The Washington Post.

Dr. William F. May, emeritus professor of ethics, Southern Methodist University.

Dr. Paul McHugh, director of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Meilaender, professor of Christian ethics, Valparaiso University.

Dr. Rowley, professor of medicine, molecular genetics and cell biology, and human genetics, University of Chicago.

Dr. Michael J. Sandel, professor of government, Harvard.

Dr. James Q. Wilson, emeritus professor of management and public policy, University of California at Los Angeles.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company