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Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness

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The President's Council on Bioethics
Washington, D.C.
October 2003



Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness is a report of the President's Council on Bioethics, which was created by President George W. Bush on November 28, 2001, by means of Executive Order 13237.

The Council's purpose is to advise the President on bioethical issues related to advances in biomedical science and technology. In connection with its advisory role, the mission of the Council includes the following functions:

  • To undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology.
  • To explore specific ethical and policy questions related to these developments.
  • To provide a forum for a national discussion of bioethical issues.
  • To facilitate a greater understanding of bioethical issues.

President Bush left the Council free to establish its own priorities among the many issues encompassed within its charter, and to determine its own modes of proceeding.

In keeping with our mission, we have undertaken an inquiry into the potential implications of using biotechnology "beyond therapy," in order to try to satisfy deep and familiar human desires: for better children, superior performance, ageless bodies, and happy souls. Such uses of biotechnology, some of which are now possible and some of which may become possible in the future, are likely to present us with profound and highly consequential ethical challenges and choices. They may play a crucial role in shaping human experience in the fast-approaching age of biotechnology.

We believe that the promises and perils of this prospect merit the attention of the nation. They are a worthy target for fundamental inquiry, an appropriate arena for exploring specific ethical questions, an important subject for ongoing national discussion, and (through such discussion) perhaps also a means of facilitating greater understanding of bioethical issues. Our intention in this report is to clarify the relevant scientific possibilities and, especially, to explore the ethical and social implications of using biotechnical powers for purposes beyond therapy.

The Council has been attentive to this subject from its very earliest days, beginning with a discussion at its first meeting, in January of 2002, of the purposes and motivations underlying biomedical science. The Council has also devoted time expressly to this particular project at nine of its meetings in the past two years (in April, July, September, October, and December of 2002, and in January, March, June, and July of 2003), taking testimony from experts in the relevant scientific, ethical, and social arenas, receiving public comment, and engaging in serious deliberation among the Members. All told, twenty-two sessions, of ninety minutes each, were devoted to the subject at public meetings. Complete transcripts of all these sessions are available to the public on the Council's website at

This report draws directly upon those sessions and discussions, as well as on written material prepared by some Council members and staff during the process. Given that context, it is crucial to understand the precise nature of this document: The final document is not a research report, but an ethical inquiry. It makes no pretense of comprehensiveness; it does not report exhaustively on the literature, scientific or ethical. Rather, it aspires to thoughtful reflection and represents mainly a (partial) distillation of the Council's own thinking. Not every Member shares every concern here expressed, or every scientific speculation or ethical assessment offered, and a few disagreements on particular points are noted in the text. Different Members care more about different topics, and all of us are aware that there are issues not addressed, and scientific opinions and ethical viewpoints not reflected. Yet, as a Council, we offer the entire document as a guide to further thinking on this very important subject.

We hope, through this report, to advance the nation's awareness and understanding of a critical set of bioethical issues and to bring them beyond the narrow circle of bioethics professionals into the larger public arena, where questions of such consequence rightly belong.

In creating this Council, President Bush expressed his desire to see us

consider all of the medical and ethical ramifications of biomedical innovation. . . . This council will keep us apprised of new developments and give our nation a forum to continue to discuss and evaluate these important issues. As we go forward, I hope we will always be guided by both intellect and heart, by both our capabilities and our conscience.

It has been our goal in the present report, as in all of our work, to live up to these high hopes and noble aspirations.




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