A group of conservatives in the US has drafted a 'bioethics agenda' for the President's second term, saying they are frustrated by the failure of Congress to ban human cloning or place 'even modest limits' on human embryo research. The group says the congressional agenda on these issues is 'too narrowly focused and insufficiently ambitious', so they have drafted a 'bold and plausible' agenda to replace it, according to a document circulating around Congress.
The group, led by Leon Kass, chair of the President's Council on Bioethics, and Eric Cohen, editor of The New Atlantis, has about 12 members. It has been meeting since last December and is now, according to the Washington Post, starting 'the delicate task of building a political coalition'. Kass says that the group is not federally funded and that his work with it is independent from his role as chair of the Council on Bioethics. The document, which the Washington Post has obtained a copy of, tells members of Congress that 'we have today an administration and a Congress as friendly to human life and human dignity as we are likely to have for many years to come'. It adds: 'It would be tragic if we failed to take advantage of this rare opportunity to enact significant bans on some of the most egregious biotechnical practices'.
However, according to the Washington Post, the group's manifesto has been attacked by fellow conservatives and opponents of embryo research, in what is described as 'an unusual instance of open divisiveness amongst Bush's conservative base'. Some of this negative reaction relates to the group's criticisms of Senator Sam Brownback, who has been trying to pass legislation banning all forms of human cloning for over four years. The group says that he made a 'strategic mistake' by aligning human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research and cloning together, in the hope that 'universal repugnance' against cloning would enable a ban on all forms of cloning to be passed, not just reproductive cloning. Kass and his group argue that the issues of cloned embryos for research and 'related' issues of 'technological baby-making' should be separated. Brownback and other conservatives have 'reaffirmed' this policy and say that 'the proposal being promoted by Kass undermines our ability to pass a comprehensive ban on all human cloning'.
Supporters of ES cell research expressed 'glee' that the conservatives were divided over the issues. Sean Tipton, spokesperson for the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said 'as long as the anti-scientific forces in Congress want to restrict legitimate science, they're going to have problems getting things passed'.