Conflict of (Moral) Interest

In a recent front-page story, the Washington Post announced that a "panel of influential scientific experts" from the National Academy of Sciences had come to a decision about human cloning. It recommended that Congress "not interfere with medical research involving human embryo clones." To do so would, as panel chairman Irving Weissman told the New York Times, "close avenues of promising medical and scientific research."   But that advice was hardly objective. In fact, the recommendations were, according to Steven Milloy of the Cato Institute, "the best pre-determined conclusions taxpayer money can buy." Neither the Post nor the Times mentioned that the scientists had either a vested financial or professional interest in the continued funding of cloning research.   Every year, the government funnels billions of dollars into medical research. Milloy reports, "the entrepreneurial researchers often then turn the fruits of this taxpayer-funded research into lucrative private businesses" -- turning researchers into multi-millionaires.   But last summer, President Bush stopped the flow of taxpayer money into destructive embryonic stem cell research, and thus experimental cloning as well. He stood up for human rights at all stages of life. This threatened stem cell researchers who know that private investors are unlikely to fund research with little promise of financial return -- the only solution: Pressure the president.   Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, formed his special panel. On it were embryonic stem cell research enthusiasts and researchers who collectively have already managed to obtain nearly six hundred taxpayer-funded grants. Three panel members belong to professional societies linked to an outfit that lobbies for public funding of destructive embryonic stem cell research.   Milloy asks rhetorically, "Was there any chance this panel would recommend against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research? Were these conflicts [of interest] fully and frankly disclosed by the National Academy of Sciences? No."   One reason scientists are viewed as credible is that the public believes their motives are pure -- that their only goal is the furtherance of knowledge. We trust that nothing as venal as money sways their judgment.   But this panel of supposedly unbiased researchers shows us that sadly, this is not always the case. Ideology, ego, or just plain greed can weigh into their considerations. It's a question of worldview.   And in any case, we shouldn't look to scientists to grapple with moral questions. There's another group that's also meeting. It's the recently appointed President's Council on Bioethics, and it's made up of philosophers, law professors, a theologian, and others -- people trained in moral discourse. The council is charged with undertaking inquiry "into the human and moral significance" of human cloning, experimental or otherwise. And there are already clear signs that members are taking their charge very seriously. We should pray for God's wisdom as they ponder the most fundamental questions of what it means to be human.   Meanwhile, when you hear scientists going on about the blessings of "therapeutic" cloning, ask yourself: What's so therapeutic about it? It's experimental cloning that kills humans. And the only things getting healthy are the bank accounts of some stem cell researchers.         Sources:   Steven Milloy, "Stem Cell Panel Has Vested Interest in Research," FOX News, 25 January 2002.   Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Science Academy Supports Cloning to Treat Disease," New York Times, 19 January 2002.   Rick Weiss and Ceci Connolly, "Experts Urge Ban on Cloned Babies, But Panel Backs Embryo Research," Washington Post, 19 January 2002.   For more information:   Andrew Ferguson, "Kass Warfare: The president's bioethics council enters the cloning fray," Weekly Standard, 4 February 2002.   To help you become well-versed in the current debate, Wilberforce Forum offers its Bioethics in the New Century Resource Kit.   Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Scott E. Daniels, and Barbara J. White, BioEngagement: Making a Christian Difference Through Bioethics Today (Eerdmans, 2000).   Learn more about the Wilberforce Forum's newest initiative, the Council for Biotechnology Policy here.


Chuck Colson


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