Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Bioethics council's report card.
The presidential order establishing the council gave the panel two major mandates: To help guide the president in biomedical policy-making and to provide a national forum for discussing these issues. In three years, Bush asked for guidance on a single issue, embryo cloning, then formulated his policy against it months before the council had an opportunity to weigh in. Otherwise, Bush had virtually no interaction with the council, leaving it to explore a set of intriguing issues that lacked clear policy implications.Art Caplan, director of the bioethics program at UPenn, put his finger on the problem pretty well: ''I don't see them as having accomplished much. They issued some reports, most of which turned out to be post facto justifications for the president on stem cells and cloning. . . . They haven't had anything to say about Americans lacking health insurance, research in the Third World, drug pricing. They've been off solely in esoterica."
The council's work led to no federal legislation, a point acknowledged by its chairman, bioethics scholar Dr. Leon R. Kass.
Of course, part of the reason behind Caplan's observation is that stem cells and cloning have been the major bioethics topics on Congress' plate the past few years, along with late-term abortions. And although the Council's work may have taken on a distinctly academic cast, Kass argues that the Council's scholarly work may pay off down the road. Meanwhile, Mishra's final grade isn't merely a disappointment for those who hoped for more from this Council, but a verdict on a major missed opportunity: "But the council, three years later, has become an afterthought -- with little impact on public debate and virtually no discernable influence on Congress or its creator, President George W. Bush."