The President's Council on Bioethics click here to skip navigation

 

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 proper meeting.

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 you, Jim.

(Applause.)

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 human suffering. 

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.

 



  - The President's Council on Bioethics -  
 
Home Site Map Disclaimers Privacy Notice Accessibility NBAC HHS