Former Bioethics Commissions
Friday, January 18, 2002
Let us spend just a couple of minutes, we actually are a few minutes earlier than adjournment, but we, I think, should at least speak a bit about our future plans, and truth to tell, it was a difficult enough task in short order to get this meeting organized that certain questions about the future have been left in abeyance until now.
Members of Council should have received, I hope all of you did receive, a series of provisional dates asking you to hold those for possible subsequent meetings. The advertisement for the frequency of meetings of this Council was we would meet 6 or 7 times a year, roughly, and that would mean spacing things out; following that, if you simply did it slavishly, we meet next in March. But I would like to propose that we, in fact, have a meeting in February. And the reason for doing that, I think, is that we have really opened things up here. The conversation--
I will simply speak for myself. I have really been delighted with the seriousness and the thoughtfulness of the exchange. There are differences of opinion in here, probably deep differences of opinion, but I have the sense that there is the making of good will for collegial exploration, and that it would be a shame not to take advantage of this momentum, and to move the conversation forward.
I do not think that there has to be a lot of new paper prepared by the staff. And I have said it before, but it should be said again, the staff did super-human work to produce these papers in two weeks. Multiple drafting, and sessions with the minimum kind of equipment making it possible. And we can revise certain sorts of things, but I will not promise any additional staff papers. We will have the Academy report distributed. I hope we can get someone from the Academy to come.
In the light of materials we receive from you, we can structure the agenda so that we can actually bite the bullet on some of these questions. I do not mean closure, but focus in on some of the things that we have opened up, skirted around, come back to.
The original dates scheduled in February-- Let me say, generally I think we should meet Thursdays and Fridays, and people who are planning their academic calendar for next year would like to know that. So that would be helpful down the road. And except for the February meeting, all the other spring dates we proposed were Thursday and Friday, in fact.
It turns out that we made a change for the February-- The original dates for the February meeting were 12th and 13th, but it turns out that I notice that three or four members of Council are appearing in Washington for another event on the 12th, and I think Dr. Rowley is-- Janet, you are going to be around also. Rather than make people go away, or hang around an extra day, I would like to propose that we meet Wednesday and Thursday of that week, the 13th and 14th of February. There are a number of you who are already here, and it will, I think, save travel time.
I apologize to those of you who are going to be inconvenienced, or who cannot make it. I wish we could have had clear notice. The original thought was we could not possibly produce new materials for you in two weeks to send out for a February meeting. But I think we can revisit these materials with profit. We can highlight for you, or you can help us highlight for one another, for ourselves, which parts of these documents, and what supplementary materials we need to read and look at.
So, if that is all right-- I guess the other way to do this would be to go around the room and find out when there is a good date, but let me do this by authority from the Chair, and apologize to those for whom that is going to be a big burden. Please.
So, we should assume the same basic format, starting the morning of the 13th and running a day and a half?
Let me see. The people who are in here on the 12th for meetings, you, Jim Wilson, Robby George. Janet, you are in on Tuesday? All day.
I would be finished two or three in the afternoon.
On Tuesday. Well, other people are busy until about three. Am I right? I think it is foolish to try to start something Tuesday afternoon. We will begin early on Wednesday, and work through until midday on Thursday. Is that all right?
Other comments, perorations, warnings? Suggestions, by the way, not just about the substance but about the procedure are welcome. They will not necessarily all be followed because they might conflict with one another, but I would like to hear from you about the way these meetings could be run to greater advantage as we go along.
I apologize for the crush yesterday. We worked ourselves pretty hard with few breaks, and maybe the conversation in the afternoon flagged some, but I thought that with a night's sleep, today was very fine, and I look forward to the next.
Robby, did you have something?
Yes. I was just thinking, it would not be a matter of the staff preparing more original paper, but if people were interested in pursuing, as I would like to do at some point to offer rebuttal of Michael's argument about the brain and brain life, the staff could simply reproduce materials that are written out there, and circulate them.
Oh, absolutely. Anything that is going to be produced. I mean, I want to hear from as many of you as possible, as have things that you would like to contribute of substance. And you could indicate whether you want-- I trust you will want this shared. Maybe something is simply for private communication, though it is a matter of public record if you submit it under the Freedom of Information Act. I trust that most of the things you would want to send to the Chair, you would want to send to all our colleagues. And you can either send it directly, or we can send it out centrally. But written materials, a page, two pages, five pages, whatever you produce, we will circulate. And depending upon the volume, we will produce some kind of an agenda, organize those topics for discussion, so that we can proceed fruitfully.
I do think that we have to proceed on several tracks at the same time, and one is to continue the arguments, and try to develop a mode of presentation of the discussion on reproductive cloning. Some people think it is a dead question; others are not so sure. How we choose to talk about it is itself, I think, an important issue not yet resolved.
And we want, I think, to consider the legislative alternatives which includes the no-legislation alternative. And loathe though some of you are to be thinking in those terms, I exhort you to try, because it is part of our business to take that up. And we will have a fuller discussion of the issue of cloning that does not lead to reproduction as a central part of this meeting.
Stephen, and then I have one more comment, and then we will break.
Should we then make any assumptions one way or the other about the other proposed spring meeting dates that were circulated?
Oh, yes. Let's think in these terms. I thought we probably-- I mean, it may turn out to be wrong, but I thought before this meeting we might skip February and meet January, March, April and May, hoping to have something reasonably good written toward the end of the spring. But I think maybe we should think in terms of January, February, March, and May, and leave the time between March and May for a fair amount of drafting and writing to be circulated, subject to change. Do not give away those dates, please. But let's make that the working operation.
I know it is a lot to ask of people, and many of you are vastly overextended, and the gift of your time is precious to us, and I do not want to abuse it. I am even loathe to call a meeting sooner than two months, but I think the subject matter, and the group process, demand it. So, with your indulgence, let's do that.
One final word. I think the difficulty here, just to reiterate, we do have very powerful moral goods, and not just interests, that are at stake in this discussion. The progress of science is not a morally neutral good, and certainly, the relief of human suffering and the cure of disease is a moral calling, and a high moral good, and I do not think there is anybody in the room, even if they wanted to ban cloning at the base, would dispute that.
There are other powerful moral goods that enter into our deliberations, and the trick is going to be to find both the rich enough language to describe those, so that even if we trample some of them, we are aware of what they are, to describe these things in full. And that was part of the meaning of the point of departure yesterday, philosophical, and somewhat amorphous, and difficult to talk about as it was.
It seems to me that when and if we make recommendations, and perhaps even conflicting recommendations on the policy side, it would be very helpful to the policy makers to understand as fully as we can help them to understand, the full meaning, and the full costs of doing whichever thing that they do. And that is a task for us. Not simply to speak in terms of the names of the goods which we privately defend, whether it be the life of the embryo, or the good of medical research, but to take upon ourselves individually the burden of speaking to the concerns of the others in this room, and to see whether one can somehow acknowledge and accommodate it, and learn how to grapple with it for ourselves so that we finally own all of the positions around the table, including the ones for which we would personally come down.
I do not think anybody has argued in this room for anything that did not have weight. And that means that however one comes down on this question, it is important for each of us to be able to acknowledge in our own thinking, and in the arguments that we put forth, the weight of the other considerations. I think that is both judicious, and I think a real public service in a climate, and in a town, if I may say so, where it is just winners and losers, and you do not really have to respect the deeply held considerations of the other side.
If we can present a kind of model moral political deliberation that does that, I think we would have made a real contribution, at least to those who would care to pay attention, and I hope there will be quite a number.
Thank you very much for two wonderful days, and bless you for doing it. The meeting is adjourned.
(Whereupon, at 12:53 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)