.- Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor and member of President Bushâs Council on Bioethics, has written an essay asking whether President Barack Obama will be open to including pro-life thinkers among his bioethics advisers.
President George W. Bush created the Presidentâs Council on Bioethics through a November, 2001 Executive Order. Its mission is to âadvise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology.â
The Council may study issues âsuch as embryo and stem cell research, assisted reproduction, cloning, uses of knowledge and techniques derived from human genetics or the neurosciences, and end of life issues.â
In the essay âA Diverse Bioethics Council?â published Jan. 23 on the web site The Public Discourse, Robert P. George reported that in 2002 when President Bush announced his appointees to the Presidentâs Council on Bioethics, liberal bioethicists claimed that the president had âstackedâ the council with âreligious conservativesâ who shared his views on embryonic stem cell research and âtherapeuticâ cloning.
âMore than a few media outlets reported this claim as if it were a fact. It was, however, a spectacular falsehood,â Prof. George claimed. He said that ânearly halfâ of the appointees âfundamentally disagreedâ with the president on such key issues.
âThe Bush council, chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, was the most intellectually and ideologically diverse bioethics advisory body ever constitutedâfar more diverse than its predecessor, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission under President Bill Clinton,â he argued.
Prof. George reported that six members favored the production of human embryos for biomedical research in which the embryos would be destroyed. At least three other members were ânot in principle opposedâ to âtherapeuticâ cloning, but supported a four-year moratorium in the hope that alternative technologies not involving cloning could be developed.
Still another member opposed the deliberate creation of embryos for destructive research, but supported revoking President Bushâs restrictions on the use of embryos âleft unusedâ by in-vitro fertilization treatments.
George himself is a pro-life Catholic thinker who recently co-authored the book âEmbryo: A Defense of Human Life.â There, he argued that human personhood begins at conception and should be respected from its beginning.
âAlthough President Bush got no credit for it,â George wrote, âhe had created a council that represented the range of viewpoints held by reasonable and responsible Americans on the most urgent and divisive bioethics questions facing the country.â
âThis enabled his council to produce reports that improved the quality of public debate by equipping citizens and policy makers with solid factual information vetted by experts representing different points of view on key ethical questions, and informing them of the best arguments available on competing sides of hot-button issues.â
Noting that it is likely President Obama will constitute a bioethics advisory council of his own, George asked: âWhen he does, will he favor the country with a council as diverse as his predecessorâs? â¦ Will nearly half hold strong pro-life views that contradict the Presidentâs own beliefs about the moral status of the human embryo and related questions? Will Obama be as open to differing perspectives and ideas as Bush was?â
George wondered whether, should President Obamaâs council not be so open, those critics who complained about a Bush council âstackedâ with âreligious conservativesâ will be consistent in their criticism.
Referring to accusations of pro-Obama media bias, he said reporting on the presidentâs choice of bioethics advisors will be âa straightforward and decisive test of the mediaâs objectivity.â
If President Obama, unlike President Bush, stacks his bioethics council with those who agree with him, Prof. George wondered whether the public will be told or whether the media will apply a double standard.
âIf Obama stacks his council with social liberals, will the contrast with the Bush council be noted? Or will the media implicitly adopt the view that a council stacked with liberals isnât really âstackedâ?â George asked.
George advocated that future Republican and conservative presidents follow President Obamaâs lead. An appointment of a diverse council, he argued, would ratify an âentirely noble wayâ of âusing bioethics advisory councils to enhance the overall quality of deliberation and debate.â
A restricted range of voices on an Obama bioethics council, George claimed, would make bioethics councils âadvance the presidentâs own preordained agenda on bioethics questionsâ and not âprovide thoughtful argumentation enriched by the inclusion of perspectives that are critical of the presidentâs beliefs.â
âIf President Obama pushes aside Bushâs openness to a council that will provide him with a diversity of ideas and opinions, he and his party should not be permitted to benefit from a double standard,â Georgeâs essay in The Public Discourse concluded. âWhen the Republicans return to power, as sooner or later they will, this is one area in which they should follow Obamaâs leadâin either direction.â