Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Kass tribute

A nice tribute to Leon Kass from Austin Ruse at the Culture of Life Foundation.

After four years as chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass participated as an associate member of the council for the first time last week. The council held its first meeting under the leadership of the new chairman, Edmund Pellegrino. In an interview with Culture & Cosmos, Kass reflected on the work of the council under his leadership.

During Kass' tenure, the council was often the subject of controversy. It regularly faced accusations from the Left of being "politicized," and it was called a tool of "right-wing ideology," a charge Kass strongly rejects. Kass said that of the original 18 members of the council, "probably seven to nine did not vote for President Bush" in the 2000 election, "and no one on the council cared." Calling this critique of the council "rubbish," Kass asked those who doubt the council's diversity of opinions to "read the council's reports."

The most recent report of the council, "Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society," does, in fact, include a caustic dissenting opinion by council Member Janet D. Rowley, who was one of the council's original members appointed by President Bush in early 2002. Her opinion on end-of-life issues clearly supports legalized assisted suicide, a position opposed by the Bush Administration.

Kass said he was particularly happy that the council's reports, under his stewardship, did not "run from the important questions" in bioethics. He said he wanted to make sure that he and his fellow members "kept certain kinds of questions alive, that might have disappeared" from discussion in America today were it not for the council. In addition to its report on ethical caregiving for the elderly, the council has issued reports on alternative sources of stem cells, biotechnology and the pursuit of happiness, and human cloning among other topics. Kass was also a participant in a Culture of Life Foundation conference on religious and ethical perspectives on end of life questions.

Fellow council member, Princeton University professor, and Culture of Life board member, Robert P. George, praised Kass for having "set an example of a deeply thoughtful bioethics" for the rest of American academia to follow.

With the end of his tenure as chairman of the council, Kass will have more time to pursue other interests. Kass is a medical doctor who holds an additional doctorate in biochemistry and is both a professor at the University of Chicago and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He said he is looking forward to returning to his own research at AEI and to teaching again at the University of Chicago this coming spring.