Ethical Considerations

A Cautious Perspective on the President’s Bioethics Committee


The most obvious question one must ask when reading the membership list of the commission is, “Where are the bioethicists?” By even the most generous accounting you could count 3..[While} you don’t have to have commission chucked full of bioethicists to have a good bioethics commission. What you need to have, however, is some sense of what the commission is going to DO in conformity with the charter. From this line up, I’m left scratching my head.

The commission’s charter lists a range of potential scientific advances which include stem cell research, “neuro- and robotic sciences”, “genetic sequencing and biomarkers”, and it would seem that the membership is comprised of scholars whom fall neatly into each one of these categories with very little consideration as to whether the charter’s “including but not limited to” statement was to be taken literally or not. I think that you will see below that the appointments show rather little imagination but rather put the appointee’s into tidy little disciplinary boxes consistent with PCSBI’s charter.

What is disappointing about this list is that if nothing revolutionary happens in the world of scientific research over the next 3 years, then this commission will do fine. But history tells us this is unlikely to be the case. Moreover, this list of members really lacks creativity in terms of what a bioethics commission COULD have done. What about a systems biologist or nanomedicine researcher (in any one of the many disciplines of nanomedicine)?

The sector most likely to care about this commission are those who will criticize it. The most early and strident criticism will come from conservatives who will say that this commission lacks sufficient diversity. There are no Leon Kass acolytes on this commission. So, in one sense, they will not be wrong. This commission has been given the direct charge to engage with diverse perspectives, but also unlike other bioethics commissions that have come before it, they have not just religious scholars, but an actual clergy person. But despite Sulmasy’s being a Franciscan friar, I will wager that this appointment will do little to appease the strong and growing conservative faction within bioethics as well as the activists within the stem cell activism communities and others. Moreover, as far as liberals go, I think they find that Sulmasy is no neocon. So at least they will be pleased.

Moreover, unless this commission makes a concerted effort to reach out to the public and other international bioethics commissions (such as the Nuffield Council and others), it will fail in its third charge of critically examining diverse perspectives and reaching out worldwide.

**My Comments**

Muhammad Ali’s wife – really?!? Society really needs to stop confusing ‘celebrity’ with ‘expertise’ (example: Jenny McCarthy and her ‘vaccines causes autism’ stance). I’ll be the first one to say that formal education is not everything, that people are capable of self-education and advocacy/activism on a large scale, but considering all the ‘holes’ in this committee, I’m convinced a far more suitable appointee could’ve been found. Hell, I can probably name three off the top of my head.

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