In August 2001, President Bush went on primetime TV to announce to the nation his decision on funding embryonic research, but he had a surprise up his sleeve. I remember that night well. I was closeted in a downtown Washington studio with his speech crackling in my ear and journalists waiting for instant comments. I remember telling them that perhaps even more important than the stem-cell decision was the President's follow-up announcement that he was creating a President's Council on Bioethics and appointing Leon Kass as its chairman.
While Kass's tenure has been stormy (the mainstream press has alternated between ignoring and misrepresenting the council's work), his achievement has been unique. Under his guidance, the councila much more diverse body than most Americans have been led to believe)has issued more reports that take human life and human dignity seriously than the rest of the mainstream bioethics world put together.
No government on the face of the earth has ever issued documents like those of the President's Council on Bioethics. It is small wonder that there were protests when he addressed the main annual bioethics meeting. Kass has so annoyed American Journal of Bioethics editor Glenn McGee that McGee has been driven to welcome the appointment of Kass' successor, Edmund Pellegrino, in fulsome terms. (Since Pellegrino is a conservative Catholic and McGee a sadly typical modern bioethicist, this is to my mind about as great a compliment as Leon Kass could get!)
After years of admiration from afar, I first met Kass shortly after my arrival in the US back in 1991, and I am honored to count him as a friend as well as a colleague. Since the beginnings of the revolution in genetics and reproductive technology, ...1
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