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Monitoring Stem Cell Research

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The President's Council on Bioethics
Washington, D.C.
January 2004



Monitoring Stem Cell Research 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.

The President 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.

Stem cell research has been of interest to, and associated in the public mind with, this Council since its creation. Taking up the charge given to us by President Bush in his August 9, 2001, speech on stem cell research, the Council has from its beginnings been monitoring developments in this fast-paced and exciting field of research. The first formal discussions of the science and ethics of stem cell research took place at our third meeting, in April of 2002, where presentations were made by two prominent stem cell researchers (John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University and Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota) and an ethicist (Gene Outka of Yale University), at a time when we were still mostly engrossed in our discussions of human cloning. Over the course of the following year and a half, even as the Council was preparing the reports Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry (July 2002) and Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (October 2003), it was gathering information on stem cell research and devoting increasing portions of its meeting agendas to this topic, which was ultimately discussed at six meetings (specifically, in April and July of 2002; and in June, July, September, and October of 2003).

The Council heard presentations from numerous experts in the relevant scientific, ethical, social, advocacy, and entrepreneurial arenas, and received public comment, oral and written. The Members engaged in serious deliberation throughout the process. All told, fourteen 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

The present monitoring report draws directly upon those sessions and discussions, as well as on written material prepared by Council members, staff, and consultants. As noted in Chapter 1, it is in the spirit of an "update" and contains no recommendations for policy.

We hope the report, with its overview chapters on the law, ethics, and science of stem cell research, and its extensive supporting material located in the appendices, will serve as a source of clear, intelligible, and useful information for both policymakers and the general public regarding the current state of this important research and of the debates that surround it.

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.

Leon R. Kass, M.D.



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