Fantasy Doctors Meet Bioethics; Reflections on Science and Morality
Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Science and ethics have always had an uneasy relationship, and we're drawn to observe it. We're fascinated by the fanatical Dr. Faustus, in whom the devil was constantly driving to break through the boundaries of mortality. Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll intended to put their genius in the service of others, but wind up making a mess of everything. Mythical though they are, they go where no man has gone before, creating monsters that swiftly slip beyond their control.
Though the stuff of fiction, they're nevertheless rooted in reality and are especially needed today to provoke thinking about the need to link scientific ambition and respect for the dignity of human life. We inhabit a time and place in human history rife with irresistible scientific experimentation that threatens to outrun the ability of traditional morality to regulate it.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the debates undertaken by the President's Council on Bioethics, which confront the changes in the biological revolution by seeking reflection on what Leon Kass, its chairman, calls "the full range of human goods at stake in bioethical dilemmas." That's why the 18 panelists include philosophers, lawyers, a journalist (who was trained as a medical doctor), political scientists, as well as academic scientists and doctors of philosophy.
"For the Council, 'bioethics' is not an ethics based on biology," writes Mr. Kass, "but an ethics in the service of bios - of a life lived humanly, a course of life lived not merely physiologically, but also mentally, socially, culturally, politically, and spiritually." The council probes at every corner at that busy intersection of biology and biography, with an eye for where to place the stoplights and the pedestrian crossings, mindful that the signals of "stop," "go" and "caution" require vigilance in looking out for detours, potholes and reckless drivers.
This latest report of the council, "Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies,"probably includes the most controversial discussions to date, as it explores specific policy considerations for the most recent high-tech medical discoveries. The timely report arrives shortly after South Korean scientists announced that they produced their first cloned human embryo, and a scientist at Harvard said he had developed 17 new lines of human stem cells for research supported by private money.
The most contentious issues relate to embryonic stem cell research and the lack of government funding for it. …