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Chair of President's Bioethics Council
Says He Will Welcome 'All Views'
Leon R. Kass, University of Chicago bioethicist and chairman of the US President's Council on Bioethics, said yesterday at AAAS that he welcomes all views as he prepares his forthcoming report to President George Bush.
"It is not my job to see that my views prevail, but to make certain that the right questions get asked, and, more important, that they get heard," said Kass.
Kass spoke at the invitation of the Professional Society Ethics Group (PSEG), which is sponsored by the AAAS Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and the Law program. The membership of PSEG is made up of ethics representatives from scientific societies who meet twice a year to discuss ethical issues and concerns that affect the scientific community.
Kass, whose council will advise the President on bioethical issues such as those that arise in stem cell research and reproductive cloning, began his talk with a discussion of the meaning of bioethics. Although the field is only about 35 years old, he said, many of the issues and questions underlying it are much older. He noted that bioethics implies a physical, mental, cultural and spiritual manner of living and that it focuses on the interaction between scientific developments and day-to-day human activities.
New developments in science and technology have given rise to important ethical questions about how these advances will affect humanity, Kass said. The role of the council, he added, would be to gather information and knowledge from many sources, thus making it possible to establish positions and opinions on these complex issues. [The AAAS Board of Directors has issued its own Statement on Human Cloning.]
"The PSEG members seemed favorably impressed with Dr. Kass's talk," said Al Teich, Director of Science and Policy Programs at AAAS. "These are highly charged issues, that, unfortunately, have become politicized. Kass's willingness to bring the full range of views on them to the President is very encouraging."
Kass described the Council as not being a "regulator or reactive" entity, but rather a group of people with intellectually diverse views, who openly discuss the bioethical topics of concern to society. He said that the council's report to the President would make use of case studies and extensive research to back up recommendations, and noted that there are plans to expand the Council's role by organizing town hall meetings around the country to promote a discourse on bioethical issues.
The Council on Bioethics is comprised of 17 leading scientists, doctors, ethicists, and theologians. Kass, former Senior Fellow for the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at University of Chicago, was appointed to the council in August of 2001. He received both his MD and PhD in biochemistry from Harvard University.
For more information on PSEG and the SFRL program please visit the website at http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/sfrl/SFRL.htm.