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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

Bush point-man wary of medical frontiers

Bioethicist says science, society at a crossroads

August 11, 2001

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— The man named by President Bush to chair a national advisory council on stem cell research is a staunch opponent of physician-assisted suicide, human cloning and the sale of human organs for transplants.

For Bush, who said he consulted with dozens of scientists, politicians, doctors, theologians and others before deciding to allow limited use of federal funds for stem cell research, Leon R. Kass stood out as the best choice for a tough job.

University of Chicago professor Leon Kass is President Bush's
selection to lead a panel on stem cell research. Kass, a
conservative biomedical ethicist, will lead other ethicists,
scientists, doctors, lawyers and theologians on the panel that will
monitor medical research on embryonic stem cells and recommend
guidelines and regulations.

University of Chicago professor Leon Kass is President Bush's selection to lead a panel on stem cell research. Kass, a conservative biomedical ethicist, will lead other ethicists, scientists, doctors, lawyers and theologians on the panel that will monitor medical research on embryonic stem cells and recommend guidelines and regulations.

Bush said it would be the job of the council that Kass will chair to "monitor stem cell research, to recommend appropriate guidelines and regulations, and to consider all of the medical and ethical ramifications of biomedical innovation. ... This council will keep us apprised of new developments and give our nation a forum for continuing to discuss and evaluate these important issues."

Kass, 62, who has spoken out frequently on the perils of modern medical advances, is a biomedical ethicist and popular professor at the University of Chicago.

Proponents of stem cell research almost immediately expressed some concern about Kass' appointment, noting that he was widely described as being against such research when he met with Bush to discuss the subject.

At the same time, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a leader of senators opposed to stem cell research, called Kass "a very good man, and he is very thoughtful and well-regarded in this topic."

Kass has come out squarely against human cloning. He warns that if the world goes in the direction of "baby design and manufacture," the result will be a brave new world of subservient sub-humans who indulge themselves in superficial pleasures.

"The prospect of cloning, so repulsive to contemplate, is the occasion for deciding whether we shall be slaves of unregulated innovation and, ultimately, its artifacts, or whether we shall remain free human beings who guide our medical powers toward enhancement of human dignity," he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee on June 20.

"The preservation of the humanity of the human future is now in our hands."

His deep reservations about some new frontiers of medicine come across in his writing, lectures and interviews. Science and society, he says, are at a "crossroads."

"But what are the new standards going to be, and where are they going to come from?" he told the Washington Post earlier this year.

"Who has the wisdom to say these 'improvements' are going to make us better human beings?"

His views on medicine and society have led some conservatives to tout him as a model for a modern surgeon general.

The conservative commentator Charles Krathammer ticked off his attributes in a column this spring: "A doctor by training, a philosopher by nature, he is one of those rare Socratic beings who can get you to see what you have never seen and get you to like it. He has practiced medicine, published in biochemistry, written and reflected on everything from Darwin to Babel, from cloning to euthanasia."

He also teaches more general courses on society and relationships, lamenting some of society's changes when it comes to relationships.

In particular, he argues the disappearance of traditional courtship has led to weaker marriages, something he says no one should be "rejoicing" over.

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