Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dissolution of Bioethics Council is a Loss for America

By Colleen Carroll Campbell
From Catholic Education Resource Center

Last month, President Barack Obama quietly disbanded the President's Council on Bioethics, a deliberative body whose changing cast of erudite and ideologically diverse members had spent the past eight years thinking through today's toughest moral questions.

Members received only one day's notice of the council's dissolution, forcing them to cancel a planned meeting and leave unfinished several major reports that were due to be released soon.

Their abrupt dismissal received little press, aside from a New York Times article that noted Obama's reason for dismantling the council. According to White House press officer Reid Cherlin, the council was "a philosophically leaning advisory group" and Obama wants a new bioethics commission that focuses less on discussion and more on forming consensus around "practical policy options." As University of Wisconsin law professor and Obama ally Alta Charo explained, the old council "seemed more like a public debating society," whereas Obama's new one will help him form what the Times described as "ethically defensible public policy."

It's ironic that a president often hailed as a sort of philosopher-king regards the discussion of philosophical questions as a waste of time for a bioethics commission. And it's odd that a leader who talks incessantly about the importance of listening to diverse viewpoints found so little to like about a council that was one of the few vehicles left in America for intelligent, civil public discourse about weighty moral questions.

While many politicians and pundits shout past each other when discussing such issues as cloning or end-of-life care, the council's members engaged each other's ideas with respect and offered an elevated model of debate for our sound-bite society. They raised profound questions about science and technology that too few Americans consider, much less discuss in depth with principled, thoughtful opponents. Gathering some of America's brightest scholars from across disciplines, the council tackled everything from the ethics of genetic screening for newborns to the moral dilemmas posed by our struggle to care for aging loved ones. Read more here.

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