TCS Daily

Kass Commission Names Emerge

By Nick Schulz - January 15, 2002 12:00 AM

President Bush will announce as early as Wednesday afternoon the members for the Council on Bioethics, sources have told Tech Central Station.

Created last August, the President's Council on Bioethics was established to advise President Bush on controversial biotechnology issues such as human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Leon Kass, appointed by Bush as chairman of the council, has finished his selections. While not all of the names of the commissioners are now known, and some are still awaiting final security clearances, Bush is expected to announce the list Wednesday afternoon without them present. He will then meet with members on Thursday and the council will hold its first meetings on Thursday and Friday.

Some influential scientists and political libertarians - who favor open-ended scientific research - have worried publicly that Kass would stack a commission that is predisposed to favor his views.

Kass is a well-known and influential public intellectual with a long history of writing about medical ethics. He is a professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Kass is also a graduate of the University of Chicago School of Medicine and holds a biochemistry PhD from Harvard University.

His books include "Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs" and "Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics." Kass has been critical of the unfettered march of biological science, coming out publicly against human cloning and other biotechnological procedures.

These views have led to criticism, such as that by the prominent Princeton professor and author of the book "Remaking Eden" Lee Silver who said in an interview: "Leon Kass pretends to be a secular bioethicist, but he is not. I believe that his point of view is grounded in religion. Kass has written, 'We are repelled by the prospect of human cloning because we intuit and feel immediately and without argument the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear.' This is not an ethical argument but a religious one."

The few names that have emerged so far suggest that chairman Kass' views will be amply represented and respected on the council. They are:

  • James Q. Wilson is Emeritus Professor of at UCLA and former head of the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association. The author of the book "The Moral Sense," Wilson is also the co-author of the book "The Ethics of Human Cloning" that he wrote along with Kass.

    Wilson and Kass engaged in a public discussion about on human cloning in the late 1990s, after which Wilson changed his views on human cloning. In a letter to the American Enterprise magazine in 1999, Wilson said, "I now think that [Kass] is right and that human cloning should be banned until some difficult problems are solved (if in fact they can be solved)."

  • Robert George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. George is an influential scholar and his views on controversial issues such as stem cell research are well known. He is the author of "The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis."

  • Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist and a psychiatrist. He has written extensively on medical ethics. He has written publicly in favor of stem cell research. He also has praised Kass publicly and suggested that Kass be named Surgeon General.

  • Francis Fukuyama is a professor of political economy at George Mason University and the author of a book to be published in April, "Our Posthuman Society: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution." He has written widely on biotechnology and regulation, including most recently in the neoconservative journal, The Public Interest, an article titled "How to Regulate Science," which is an excerpt from his book.

Finally, an interesting selection in the mix is Dr. Alfonso Gomez-Lobo. He is currently the Ryan Family Professor of Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Georgetown University. He has written extensively on classical Greek philosophy, with an emphasis on Aristotle. But his views on issues such as cloning and stem cells are not readily known.

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