A presidential advisory council on bioethics began its work Thursday by examining the ethical, scientific and legal issues surrounding human cloning.
The 18-member council is looking at the philosophical and scientific underpinnings of the debate. It also plans to address the specific issue before Congress: whether a ban on cloning should include research and medical treatments or be limited to efforts to create another human being.
President Bush already has said he favors a total ban on human cloning, and it was unclear what effect recommendations from the council might have on his position.
A series of working papers prepared for members of the council laid out arguments on all sides of the debate and made it clear that moral as well as scientific issues would be on the table.
"There is a need both for sobriety and for a full hearing of all arguments in this debate, and it is in this spirit of open inquiry that the council shall do its work," a paper prepared by the council's staff concludes.
"But there is also the need for responsible judgments and policies, and for recognition of the fact that these are inescapably moral matters, to be decided on not by scientists or techno-entrepreneurs acting alone but by all of us conversing and deliberating in the public square."
The council is also charged with tackling embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, issues that deeply divide Americans. Mr. Bush also asked the council to examine assisted reproduction, typically in vitro fertilization, which is used by many infertile couples and widely accepted.
The president promised in August to create the council after struggling with whether the government should finance promising but controversial research involving stem cells derived from human embryos. It replaces a similar commission that advised President Clinton.
The cloning issue is squarely before Congress now.
Last year, the House passed a ban on all human cloning. But Democrats and many Republicans in the Senate favor a ban that exempts cloning for research purposes that does not involve implanting a cloned embryo into a woman's uterus.
Cloning for research purposes, for instance, could involve cloning the cells of a particular patient in order to create new, embryonic stem cells that are less likely to be rejected when used in treating his or her disease.
But opponents argue that this sort of treatment would involve destroying the newly created embryo, which they say is a human life of its own, or at least has potential to become one.
Working papers prepared by the council's staff examine issues ranging from the "human dignity" of a cloned embryo to the need for scientific advancement and ramifications of banning promising research.
The White House did not identify the members of the council until Wednesday. It said they were chosen for their diverse views, specialized knowledge and thoughtfulness.
"With their assistance and guidance, the president wll continue to forge a policy on bioethical issues that reflects his strong support of science and technology, as well as his deep respect for human life and human dignity," the White House said in a statement.
The commission is chaired by Leon Kass, a University of Chicago bioethicist who is outspokenly opposed to human cloning and euthanasia. He has also opposed IVF technology and still questions aspects of the procedure used by thousands of infertile couples.
One prominent bioethicist who is not on the council said the panel appears reasonably balanced.
"I think it's a distinguished group," said Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, who said he had been worried that the group would be stacked with conservatives. He said the panel members appear to lean to the political right, but that the group includes a variety of views. "It's got a spin but it's not toppled over."
© MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 2002 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.