President George W. Bush made two announcements in his televised speech on August 9, 2001. First, he would permit federal funding for experiments on stem cells derived from human embryos, but only on cells derived from embryos already killed by August 9. Second, he would appoint a Presidential Advisory Council on Bioethics, led by Leon Kass, to review this and other issues.

Longtime professor on the University of Chicago's prestigious Committee on Social Thought, Kass is an M.D. with a Ph.D. in biochemistry who has a background in National Institutes of Health research. He was a founding member of the board of the Hastings Center, the nation's premier bioethics think tank. I met with Kass at his American Enterprise Institute office in Washington. (Kass noted that his comments do not reflect the position of the federal government.)

How do you see the work of the President's Council on Bioethics?

Our first task is to do fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of these advances in biomedical science and technology—not just pronounce them good, bad, or indifferent. Second, we shall seek to delineate the ethical and social issues that particular advances may raise, and serve as a national forum for discussion. Finally, we need also to explore ways for fruitful international collaboration around some of these matters. The challenges that confront us are not mainly issues of good versus evil but rather issues of competing goods. Because the council has been liberated from the need to produce consensus, we are free to develop the competing arguments at the highest level.

It's very important that everybody in the discussion acknowledge that the other side also has something vital to defend here. For example, people ...

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