Last week, it was made public that President Obama will disband the President’s Council on Bioethics, and create a new bioethics commission, whose members he will appoint. The decision has drawn criticism from those who believe it is simply an attempt to replace current Council members with more liberal ones.
Since 1974, presidential bioethics commissions have worked to help develop guidance on issues such as genetic engineering and human cloning. The current Council on Bioethics was appointed by President George W. Bush in November 2001, as the debates surrounding human stem cell research grew. Bush’s Council was initially led by Leon Kass of the University of Chicago and, since 2005, by Edmund Pellegrino of Georgetown University.
But according to Reid Cherlin, a White House press officer, the Council under Bush was “a philosophically leaning advisory group” that favored debate over developing a shared consensus. The new bioethics commission will have a new mandate that “offers practical policy options,” Cherlin told the New York Times.
But Robert George, a professor of the Philosophy of Law and one of the current Council members, is not convinced by Obama’s talk of a more practical Council.
“I don’t think Obama has any intention of appointing a commission that is more practical,” George said. “He intends to appoint a commission that is more uniformly liberal than philosophically diverse.”
George explained the Council of Bioethics under Bush was the most philosophically and politically diverse council ever created by a president. Of 18 members, half did not share the Bush’s convictions, and six were not even his political supporters, George told CNA.
“Bush was falsely accused of stacking the Council with religious conservatives, but really, he did not stack it at all,” George said. “It was incredibly diverse and that allowed the best possible contributions to be made.”
Now, George believes that Obama is doing what Bush was falsely accused of doing. “I believe his Council will have no substantial dissenting voice. There will be few, if any, members who do not support the president politically.”
Asked about the Obama administration’s claim that the Council under Bush spent more time debating than developing a shared consensus, George responded that debate is a key step in reaching an agreement, and that the only way to avoid substantial debate would be to have a Council filled with members that already agree on the issues from the beginning, one in which “no dissenting voices are allowed to be heard.”
Prof. George speculated that Obama will proceed to appoint a liberal Council, confirming his real motives. “They’re not interested in a Council that reaches its own conclusions, just one that supports Obama,” he asserted.
“I think the new Council will likely function as a rubber stamp to support Obama’s agenda."