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Closer to God

The presidentís handpicked bioethics czar gives ammunition to the anti-stem cell research lobby.

This eagerly awaited report on stem cell research is among the rarest of government products: something that people might actually read. Indeed,the published findings of the Presidentís Council on Bioethics possess such high import that they were printed in great number and distributed to national bookstores last October; Human Cloning and Human Dignity is available at any Barnes & Noble.

Although the published findings are officially classified as recommendations, they have given President George W. Bush and Congress exactly what they had previously lacked: intellectual validation, of sorts.

In February, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of the so-called Weldon bill, which would ban outright all stem cell research that involves the cloning of cells from a human embryo, regardless of whether that embryo comes from a petri dish, or a fertility clinic where it would otherwise be destroyed. Violators would face a $1 million fine and up to ten years in jail. The crime? Removing the DNA of an unfertilized human egg and replacing it with different DNA, then coaxing it to grow until it divides sufficiently to produce stem cells.

Two competing bills have been introduced in the Senate: one that offers a compromise that allows stem cell cloning expressly for research purposes; the other a virtual carbon copy of the Weldon bill. Despite the fact that the compromise measure is cosponsored by stalwart conservatives like Senator Orrin Hatch (R: Utah) and Senator Arlen Specter (R: Pennsylvania), it faces fierce opposition.

On August 9th, 2001, in his first televised presidential address to the nation, President Bush issued an edict from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, declaring that the federal government would heretofore fund research only on stem cell lines that had been created already. That November, the president announced that he had tapped University of Chicago professor Leon Kass to head a bioethics commission. The commissionís first task would be the report.

Those who knew Dr. Kass and his views on stem cell research warned that the outcome of his commission was preordained.

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Reviews

DNA at 50

The Genetic Frontier

» Closer to God

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HUMAN CLONING AND HUMAN DIGNITY: THE REPORT OF THE PRESIDENTíS COUNCIL ON BIOETHICS
By Leon Kass
Public Affairs, 350 pages, $14
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The Politicization of Expert Committees

How the Bush administration gets the scientific advice it wants.

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