The Unethical Presidential Council on Bioethics

There exists the President's Council on Bioethics, a group of people advising President George Bush on bioethics issues. Unfortunately, there are two ethical problems with the council, making it more of a political stunt than any ethical exchange between science and religion. The first problem is that the council has censored scientific facts towards the political and religous views of the President and one of the council's chairman, Leon Kass. Indeed, in March 2003, two Council members were kicked off the council and they critiqued this bias in a paper titled Reason as Our Guide, as well as a critique in a NEJM titled Bioethics and the Political Distortion of Biomedical Science. In April 2004, the Council released recommendations on assisted fertility practices, which sparked more complaints. In an article in the 2 April 2004 New York Times, page A12, titled "Bioethics panel recommends limits on assisted fertility", additional complaints were reported on the biases of the council. "Fissures on the council burst into public view at its session on Thursday when Daniel Foster of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School complained that the council, composed of biologists, lawyers, political scientists and others, had been unbalanced by the recent replacement of two scientists. Dr. Foster said he and other council members had considered resigning at the urging of fellow scientists, but agreed to stay "to have a voice, even though we are smaller in number."

Much of the ethics of the Presidential Council is based on Christian ethics - the ethics of the New Testament. What perfect forum then to ask the bioethics question: "Was Jesus completely unethical when he destroyed a fig tree for not having fruit out of season?", or did the apostles who wrote about this event lie about at least one instance of Jesus' life? The books of the apostle Matthew and Mark recount a fairly bizarre episode in Jesus' life. I quote from the book of Mark:

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, [Jesus] was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. Ahd [Jesus] said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." Mark 11:12-14
Now I ask you, what idiotic asshole condemns a tree forever for not having fruit out of season? Seriously, no tree has fruits out of season. Isn't that how Jesus and God designed the biology of trees - no fruits on trees out of season. So why does Jesus forever curse a tree for being a tree? It's nonsense biology. It's nonsense ethics. It's nonsense bioethics. If it is some parable predicting Israel will wither away, it is a false parable because 2000 years later, the State of Israel has a thriving Jewish culture and is in the top 30 of countries with the highest GDP per capita. The recounting of this event is probably a bioethics lie of Matthew and Mark, (e.g., with the simple explanation that Jesus never said this, but rather was one of the anti-Semitisms invented by the Apostles). Indeed, the book of Luke has Jesus teaching the bioethical way to help a fig tree thrive, with Luke explicitly saying it is a parable of Jesus:
Then [Jesus] told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir', the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down." Luke 13:6-8
So until Christianity-driven Presidential Councils on Bioethics first address the many bioethical problems of Christianty, they should shut up about the bioethics of science. Besides, the scientists have plenty of ethical review safeguards in place.

Many other scientists have complained about the Bush Adminstration's biasing of science for political purposes. For example, a few weeks earlier in late February 2004, newswires reported that the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association released a statement criticizing President Bush's view that heterosexual marriage is the only proper form of marriage for civilization. The Board's position is that there is no basis in anthropological science and no data showing that "either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution". Earlier in February, a group of 60 leading scientists issued a 32 page report criticizing the Bush Administration's misuse of science. An organization has been formed, Science in Policy of scientists to document the abuse of science by the government. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has a similar critique titled "The Junk Science of George W. Bush". In July 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report titled Scientific Integrity in Policy Making: Further Investigations of the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science. See also the Progressive Bioethics Initiative.

Other Administration science censorships:

EPA chief ignores science recommendation of EPA staffers to then deny California's request to set tougher greenhouse gas regulations for cars and trucks, January 2008.

Ex-surgeon general tells House panel he was muzzled by the White House, July 2007.

See also: [Bush's] Standing in the Way of Stem Cell Research, in which stem researcher James Thompson criticizes former Bioethical Council Charles Krauthammer for falsely crediting President Bush with 2007 advances in creating embryonic-like stem cells without embryos, writing "Krauthammer's central argument - that the president's misgivings about embryonic stem cell research inspired innovative alternatives - is fundamentally flawed.", and see "Stem-Cell Researchers Claim Embryo Labs Are Still Necessary" - Wall Street Journal, 4 January 2008.

The other problem with the Bioethics Council is that by itself, it is inherently unethical. The Council's main purpose is to analyze the ethical (which in American politics means Christian) aspects of modern biotechnology and behavioral science, especially research funded by the government. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do - science is not done in a vacuum and its activities should be scrutinized by other communities, such as the religious community.

But scrutiny is a two-way street. So to be ethically relevant, there should be a matching President's Council on ReligiousEthics, where the ethical (i.e., scientific) aspects of modern religions are analyzed. For example, is there any scientific basis for the religious discrimination towards women or homosexuals? Without such a council, the current council on Bioethics is little more than a political mockery of ethical analysis in the service of society.

Prior to the President's Council on Bioethics, there existed the National Bioethics Advisory Commission from 1996 to 2001. An archive of their reports is available at Georgetown University.

A growing number of universities are creating centers for bioethics, many of which share the same hypocrisies as the President's Council, for example, Yale University's Center for Bioethics, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

The World Health Organization has a bioethics committee that prepares position statements on various biotech issues such as cloning.