Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Here's something I've been wondering about for awhile... Exactly what is it that makes someone an "expert" on ethics, in general, and "bioethics" in particular? Training in the academic philosophy of ethics, perhaps. But what that amounts to is expertise in understanding and using certain traditional types of argumentation to support one's ethical conclusions. Big deal. If Hitler or Josef Stalin had studied the philosophy of ethics, would that make them ethical authorities? Somehow I don't think so.

Case in point, and what brought this up, is some stuff I came across on Leon Kass, the chairman of the "President's Council on Bioethics". Although (reportedly) trained in medicine and biology, most of his academic career has been teaching "humanistic" subjects. Are any of those subjects sufficient qualifications for an "expert" on bioethics? Or does it all come down, in the end, to opinions that may be grounded in theology as much as in science?

What are Kass's own personal ethics? About this there seems to be controversy, since the guy seems to be actively lobbying Congress in defense of a very conservative agenda (against almost any form of therapeutic cloning, for example, and many other types of scientific research in human embryology). At the same time he leads a Presidential Council chartered to provide "objective" advice on the subject. Is there a conflict of interest here?

For reports about Kass's activities, see here, here, and here.


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