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Session 7: Public Comment

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you very much.

I think that should be it for this particular session.  We have one person who has asked to speak in the session for public  comment, and I'd like to ask Council members if they can to simply remain seated as we are now and invite Father Thomas Berg of the Westchester Institute to offer his public comment.

Welcome, Father Berg.

FATHER BERG:  Thank you very much, Dr. Kass.

The Council will be grateful that I have a plane to catch shortly which will require me to be brief and to the point.  So I'll just read the statement that I've prepared.

I'm a Catholic priest and an ethicist, and I'm also the Director of the Westchester Institute, an ethics think tank located in Thornwood, New York, and which organizes scholarly forums twice annually here in Washington.

In what I'm about to say, while I speak only for myself, I would wager that my views are shared by not a few Catholic moralists.

It is safe to say that the Catholic community, by and large, would follow with great openness and interest the development of new technologies that would allow science to harness the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells by non-embryo destructive means were that possible, and by means that in no other way would be detrimental to the integrity and dignity of the human embryo.

I think it is also evident from the deliberations of this Council and from preliminary scholarly comments upon the proposals that all proposals are deserving, to use the language in the current draft of the white paper and I hope language to this effect would remain in the document, that all proposals are deserving of careful and serious consideration, further public discussion and, where ethically appropriate, a vigorous scientific exploration.

As a Catholic moralist, I heartily welcome the invitation to further this process of sustained moral scrutiny of each of the proposals, and I cannot stress enough that we are only at the beginning of that process, at least from my perspective.

As one step in that process, our institute has organized a private gathering of ethicists and scientists, moral theologians and philosophers at the end of April here in Washington to give particular attention to Bill Hurlbut's proposal, altered nuclear transfer, and I expect that in the context of that collegial dialogue there will also be some discussion of the other proposals.

Our objective is to give the proposal a fair hearing and to sustain the kind of interdisciplinary dialogue that will be necessary for moralists, most of us non-scientists, to obtain the information we need to begin and carry on a process of moral discernment with regard to the licitness of ANT.

As a Catholic moralist, I need the proponents of ANT to provide me with a body of scientific data which can constitute a basis of information sufficient for me to arrive at moral certainty that the entity created by ANT would not be a severely disabled embryo, indeed, would not be an embryo at all, nor could have the potential to become an embryo.

I am convinced that such scientific data can only be assembled through the further exploration of this theory in animal models.  Obviously, we would never endorse at this point laboratory experiments with ANT involving the use of altered human nuclei and ova.

Lacking such a body of scientific data, we are simply not in a position at this moment to arrive at a definitive ethical judgment on ANT.  I believe that the majority of us are eager to get our hands on that body of scientific information that will enable us to move toward a moral judgment on ANT and to get that ensemble of information in the fastest way possible.

Not only should we commence as soon as possible with the animal experimentation phase of ANT.  We should pursue federal funding to do so.

Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you very much.


PROF. GEORGE:  Yes, just a quick point since Father Berg in his presentation mentioned the therapeutic potential of embryonic or embryonic type stem cells, and having in mind what you said, Leon, when we were discussing this about the way a report could be misinterpreted or things can be read into the report and read out of it, I just wanted to say that I think it would be a bad thing if anyone in reporting on our deliberations about this suggested that our willingness or the willingness of people like myself to do everything we can to try to find what we consider to be ethically sound sources of pluripotent stem cells, it would be a mistake to suggest that that means that we have come to accept what I believe is the hyping of the therapeutic potential of such cells.

I believe that it remains speculative what the therapeutic potential is.  I certainly hope that there is great potential there.  I'm not convinced that there is, but nevertheless, I believe that we should go forward in trying to find ways to obtain these cells and permit the research to go forward without the destruction of embryos.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you. 

I think the point is well taken.  I'm fairly sure that the document as currently written is sober on that point.

PROF. GEORGE:  Yes.  The document is absolutely fine.  I just make the point because we can't always count on people who are reporting on the document to read it as carefully as they should.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Well, one of the things one learns in this business is you cannot control what other people make of what you've done.  The best you do is you put it as carefully as you can and hope for the best, but we'll do our best.

Thank you all for your attendance.  Thanks to members of the public.  The meeting is adjourned.

(Whereupon, at 11:57 a.m., the meeting in the above-entitled matter was concluded.)

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