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Thursday, January 16, 2003

Welcome and Opening Remarks

CHAIRMAN KASS: Happy New Year to everybody. It's nice to see Council Members back. Welcome to you all to this the 9th meeting of the President's Council on Bioethics, as we begin our second year of work.

I note the presence of Dean Clancy, the Designated Federal Officer in whose presence this meeting is legitimate.

The agenda for this meeting is as you can see quite diverse. We're proceeding simultaneously on several of our different projects and we will take up one topic in the second session which is not technically a project of the Council, but we'll talk about that when we get there.

Our first session is devoted to the topic "Early Embryonic Development, An Up-to-Date Account." And I think if I might, since this is a sometimes touchy subject I might simply review for Council Members why it is that we are taking this topic up and at this time.

First, although the ethical questions are not determined by biological facts, a proper discussion of any of the moral questions regarding embryos should be informed by what is known and many times in the past, major shifts in thinking about the moral character of embryonic life has, in fact, been – these shifts have been caused changing understanding of human embryology and we're hoping to get some further insight into the various developmental milestones that have sometimes played an important role in the bioethics literature in ascribing so-called moral status to the embryo.

Second, Council Members, whether we like it or not, the embryo will be with us as we proceed down the path to offering our report on the monitoring of stem cell research, embryonic and adult, that we have an obligation, I think, to be up-to-date about human embryology and also when one reads and sees that there are members of the United States Senate who talked about unfertilized embryos, and other people talk about blastocysts as if they had hands and feet, it seems to me we do ourselves and the people who read what we produce a service, if in fact, we speak about these things accurately and in an up-to-date fashion.

And then finally, since we are pursuing a richer bioethics, we, I think, owe it to ourselves and again to those who would read what we write, to try to quite apart from the question of the uses that are to be made of embryos, in fact, to speak as accurately and as fully as we can about this entity or these stages of the developing entity whose true nature is so much in dispute and which is, in fact, somewhat mysterious.

That, I think, is the reason for taking this topic up and also for taking it up in a way from the particular moral debates that we have had before and are likely to have again. I remind you that the house rules this morning are that we are going to try to learn what we can about the biology, certain kinds of biophilosophical questions might be in order, but I will try and preside in order to keep this from turning into an opportunity to score some points in the moral debate about the so-called moral status of embryonic life.

We are very fortunate to have with us this morning, Dr. John Opitz, who is the Professor of Pediatrics of Human Genetics, Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah's School of Medicine. He's also a University Professor of Medical Humanities at Montana State University. And as we were chatting before the meeting, I realized that we can invite Dr. Opitz to come back and talk to us about a whole range of other things of interest and pertinence to the Council.

Dr. Opitz will make a presentation and we will then have discussion. Without further ado, let me turn the floor over to you. Thank you very much for being with us and we look forward to your presentation.

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