The President's Council on Bioethics: Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry-Executive Summary *

Issues in Law & Medicine, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The President's Council on Bioethics: Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry-Executive Summary *


Preface

Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry is the first publication of the President's Council on Bioethics, which was created by President George W. Bush on November 28, 2001, by means of Executive Order 13237.

The Council's purpose is to advise the President on bioethical issues related to advances in biomedical science and technology. In connection with its advisory role, the mission of the Council includes the following functions:

* To undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology.

* To explore specific ethical and policy questions related to these developments.

* To provide a forum for a national discussion of bioethical issues.

* To facilitate a greater understanding of bioethical issues.

* To explore possibilities for useful international collaboration on bioethical issues.

President Bush left the Council free to establish its own priorities among the many issues encompassed within its charter, based on the urgency and gravity of those issues and the public need for practical guidance about them.

The Council had little difficulty in choosing its first topic of inquiry. The ethics of human cloning has been the subject of intense discussion in the United States and throughout the world for more than five years, and it remains the subject of heated debate in Congress. On the surface, discussion has focused on the safety of cloning techniques, the hoped-for medical benefits of cloning research, and the morality of experimenting on human embryos. But driving the conversations are deeper concerns about where biotechnology may be taking us and what it might mean for human freedom, equality, and dignity.

Human cloning, were it to succeed, would enable parents for the first time to determine the entire genetic makeup of their children. Bypassing sexual reproduction, it would move procreation increasingly under artful human control and in the direction of manufacture. Seen as a forerunner of possible future genetic engineering, it raises for many people concerns also about eugenics, the project to "improve" the human race. A world that practiced human cloning, we sense, could be a very different world, perhaps radically different, from the one we know. It is crucial that we try to understand, before it happens, whether, how, and why this may be so.

Investigating human cloning also provides the Council an important opportunity to illustrate how bioethics can and should deal with those technological innovations that touch deeply our humanity. Here, as elsewhere, the most profound issues go beyond the commonplace and utilitarian concerns of feasibility, safety, and efficacy. In addition, on the policy side, cloning offers us a test case for considering whether public control of biotechnology is possible and desirable, and if so, by what means and at what cost.

The Council commenced deliberations on the topic of human cloning at its first meeting in January 2002, and continued the discussion at its February, April, and June meetings, all held in Washington, D.C. We heard presentations on the recent cloning report of the National Academy of Sciences; on human stem cell research, embryonic and adult; on the ethics of embryo research; and on international systems of regulation of embryo research and assisted reproductive technologies. We received a great deal of public comment, oral and written. All told, we held twelve ninety-minute conversations on the subject.

Recognizing "the complex and often competing moral positions" on biomedical issues, President Bush specified in creating the Council that it need not be constrained by "an overriding concern to find consensus." In this report we have chosen not to be so constrained. We have not suppressed disagreements in search of a single, watered-down position. …

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