Consistent with the soul-searching experience and dialogue that I discussed in the January issue as a “useful by-product” of the war on terrorism will be the debate orchestrated by the President’s Council on Bioethics over the next couple of years. Leon Kass seems the ideal choice to lead this panel and, if reports of the Council’s first session in January are an indication, we are indeed in for some morally serious deliberations. As Kass himself said, “one feels a palpable increase in America’s moral seriousness, a fresh breeze of sensible moral judgment, clearing away the fog of unthinking and easy-going relativism.” Wow! I can’t wait. As Andrew Ferguson reports in The Weekly Standard, it is the second of two Council charges that is unprecedented—“to undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance” of recent advances in genetic science. One gets the distinct feeling that there are critical issues at stake—like what it means to be human—and that there are grown-ups in the room deliberating them. It’s about time.
If you want some insight into the thought of Leon Kass and the direction in which he might lead the Council and the country in this regard, I recommend his article “The Meaning of Life-In the Laboratory”, in the Winter 2002 issue (No. 146) of The Public Interest. One quote will give you a flavor: “The current boundaries defining protectable human life, gerrymandered for the sake of abortion—namely, birth or viability—may now satisfy both women’s liberation and the U. S. Supreme Court and may someday satisfy even a future Pope, but they will not survive the coming of more sophisticated technologies for growing life in the laboratory.” In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis says that human nature will be the last part of nature to surrender to man. There is now serious work underway examining the possible repercussions. Let’s pay close attention.