Thursday, July 24, 2003
Welcome and Opening Remarks
CHAIRMAN KASS: Could I ask Council Members to take their
seats so that we can get started?
Good morning. Welcome Members of the Council to this, our twelfth
meeting. Welcome also to members of the public. I'd like to
recognize the presence of Dean Clancy, our Executive Director, the
Designated Federal Officer, in whose presence we have a legal and
And I would also like to take this opportunity on behalf of the
Council to express our congratulations to Jim Wilson who yesterday
received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Congratulations to
A word of thanks to Council Members for your loyalty and devoted
service and especially this time for the heroic amount of material
that you have, I would assume, read or will have read before long.
I warn you there is more to come, but we are in your debt for your
attention and comments, of course. Welcome.
The first session of this meeting, "The Research Imperative:
Is Research a Moral Obligation?" does double duty in this Council.
First, it's part of our ongoing effort at what we call a richer
bioethics and second, it does have something to contribute to the
on-going discussions of the ethics of stem cell research. It will
continue our effort to lift up to view some of the unstated assumptions
that lie behind the debates, say about stem cell research or cloning
for biomedical research, assumptions that rarely get the attention
and scrutiny that they deserve. We've paid some attention to
the assumptions about the moral status of the human embryo.
At the next meeting we want to look at the ethical and political
meaning of funding or not funding ethically controversial research
in a pluralistic society. And today, we're going to look at
the so-called imperative of research, especially research in biomedical
science that could lead to cures for diseases.
No one doubts the great value of such research and no one should
have anything but admiration and gratitude to the generations of
scientists who have pushed back the frontier against ignorance and
who provide knowledge and techniques fruitfully used to alleviate
The question is, rather, what kind of a good is such research
and what kind of an obligation do we have to pursue it?
Is it an unqualified obligation, a so-called perfect duty that
takes precedence over possible objections and concerns, especially
ethical ones? Such seem to be, at least the implicit view of at
least one scientist who presented to this Council, who in so many
words indicated that this Council would be held morally responsible
for any lives that were lost should we erect any legal barriers
to cloning for biomedical research and similar opinions have been
voiced many times in the public debate in recent years.
Others have argued that there is no moral or social obligation
to medical research at all, even if such research were a social
good and good for us, but rather an optional goal to be pursued,
one among many and by no means supreme.
To help us continue to think about this question, is there an
imperative to research and if so, of what sort? We're very
fortunate to have with us Daniel Callahan, the co-founder and for
27 years the Director and President of the first bioethics think
tank of the United States, The Hastings Center. Dan Callahan has
a nose for all the tough big questions in the field, as the titles
in his résumé will show. And moreover, the courage to try to make
other people face up to them.
It is the tough question of the research imperative that is the
topic of his forthcoming book, What Price Better Health: Hazards
of the Research Imperative and that makes him the perfect person
to get us thinking about this today.
If I might add a note of personal pleasure, I was a young researcher
at NIH almost 35 years ago when Dan Callahan was starting The Hastings
Center and he invited me to the first organizing meeting of what
would become that center and in an ill-fated writing venture Dan
and I were co-editors of a volume called Freedom, Coercion and
the Life Sciences for which I had written a chapter on "Freedom,
Coercion and Asexual Reproduction" whose arguments I've
been cloning ever since.
Dan, it's a great pleasure to have you here. We look forward
to your presentation and discussion.