The Pathos of the Kass Report

Peter Berkowitz, Policy Review, October/November 2002.


An anticipation of the first report of the President’s Council on Bioethics, critics on the left and not a few right-wing libertarians had been sharpening their swords and replenishing their reserves of moral indignation and intellectual contempt. But those who had been eagerly preparing to take up arms against a manifesto of traditional pieties grounded in literary fictions and religious faith should have been sorely disappointed in mid-July, when the council delivered its report to President Bush. In fact, Human Cloning and Human Dignity — now appearing as a book, and scrupulously laying bare the moral case for and against human cloning — is an enlightened and enlightening document, and Dr. Leon Kass, chosen last fall by President Bush to chair the council, deserves much credit.

Not the least reason for the report’s value is the seriousness with which the council under Kass’s leadership took to heart the November 2001 presidential Executive Order that brought it into being, directing the members, first of all, “to undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology,” and also “to explore specific ethical and policy questions related to these developments.” In responding to this presidential mandate, the council has provided a model of liberal inquiry in the service of the public interest. It has also dramatized the inescapable priority of the good of freedom in our judgments about cloning, as in all of our considered moral judgments and policy prescriptions.

Policy Review