HUMAN CLONING AND HUMAN DIGNITY:
The Report of the President's Council on Bioethics
With a foreword by Leon Kass
(Public Affairs, 2002, 350pp, $28.00. Available from AD Books)
As in Australia and other Western nations, the United States has been involved in a lengthy and divisive debate concerning the new reproductive technologies. More specifically, it has been debating the moral, social and scientific merits of human cloning and stem cell research.
This book is the result of a special inquiry ordered by US President Bush to examine these contentious issues. Late in 2001 he announced the formation of a bioethics council to weigh into the many related issues involved in the cloning debate. Chaired by bioethicist Leon Kass of the University of Chicago, a panel of experts was quickly convened, and after six months of research and reflection, this final report was presented to the President in July 2002.
This 350-page book presents the findings of the council which was comprised of 17 experts in science, medicine, public policy and ethics, some secular, some religious.
The report begins with an overview of the debate, including scientific, historical and ethical components. Terminology is also clearly defined. Then the pros and cons of the ethics of reproductive cloning are examined in detail. Similarly, the ethics of therapeutic cloning, both for and against, are closely discussed.
The book concludes with public policy options and recommendations.
Faith in science
If readers are familiar with the works of Leon Kass, they will see his fingerprints throughout this volume. Much of the level-headed common sense and moral clarity of his writings shine through here. For example, one will find warnings about not putting too much faith in science and scientific research, a theme often found in the writings of Kass.
As the report says in one place, we must not unduly shackle science, but neither must we worship at its altar. To put restraints on scientific inquiry is both sensible and morally necessary. This is especially important as we further move into the murky waters of cloning and embryo research.
In many other ways this report reflects wise deliberations, careful moral considerations, and prudent policy directions. How much Kass has to do with all of this is unclear, but it does reflect some careful moral thinking on the subject.
Having said that, however, we must beware of the book's limitations. Because this report is a collection of viewpoints - an assemblage of differing options and proposals - it cannot come out with clear-cut and definite conclusions. Thus it may well disappoint some.
But the overall direction and tone of the report is one of balance, prudence and caution. It realises the limitations of science and medicine, and recognises the importance of a comprehensive ethical underpinning of any discussion on the issues involved. It thus makes for an important contribution to the debate.
Bill Muehlenberg is the National Vice-President of the Australian Family Association.