We Don’t Play Politics with Science

Washington Post, March 3, 2004.


Even before the President’s Council on Bioethics had its first meeting in January 2002, charges were flying that the council was stacked with political and religious conservatives, appointed to rubber-stamp the president’s moral and political views. One newspaper story on the day of our first meeting even went so far as to compare us to the Taliban.

Today those charges are swirling again, in response to three new appointments the president has made to the council, as we begin our second term. The charges were malicious and false then, as they are now.

In a little over two years, the council has issued three major reports (on human cloning, on enhancement uses of biotechnology and on stem cell research), with a fourth due in April (on regulating biotechnologies touching the beginnings of human life). We have also issued an anthology of readings on “Being Human” to contribute to public understanding of the deeper issues of bioethics. While some have taken issue with this recommendation or that conclusion, these reports have been widely praised–in the Hastings Center Report, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times Magazine, among others–for their balance, thoughtfulness, accuracy, moral seriousness and respect for competing opinions. In the cloning report, we offered powerful arguments both for and against cloning for research. Despite large differences regarding the moral status of human embryos, we have issued a unanimous document on the current state of stem cell research. Our forthcoming report has found common ground between liberals and conservatives, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, for near-unanimous public policy recommendations.