The chairman of the bioethics council steps down.
Leon Kass has stepped down as chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics. On one level, I am happy for Kass. For four years he has broiled in the pressure cooker of Washington politics, subjected to vituperation and vicious calumny from the bioethics and science establishments for his heterodox (to them) defense of the intrinsic dignity and importance of human life. For Kass, who will remain a member of the council under the leadership of the bioethicist Edmund Pellegrino, it will no doubt be a relief to step out of the klieg lights of public controversy to focus on his scholarship and family.
But for the country, it is a loss. Under Kass's visionary leadership, the President's Council has produced a series of extraordinary and brilliant studies that have deliberately and soberly analyzed some of the most important and perplexing moral issues of our time, including human cloning, stem cell research, genetic engineering, performance-enhancing drugs, and reproductive technologies. And now, in the final report to be published under Kass's chairmanship, the council has just issued Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society.
Of all of the council's reports, Taking Care is the most relevant to the immediate concerns of millions of Americans. Taking Care confronts head-on the ethical dilemmas that arise when caring for dependent elderly people whose cognition has collapsed under the assault of Alzheimer's disease and other disabling brain afflictions.
It is not a pleasant topic, but it is a necessary one. As the report notes, America is a fast-aging society. There are already 4.9 million of us who are 85 or older. By 2030, there will be 9.6 million. Between 2000 and 2050, the population of people aged 65-74 will nearly double to 35 million, and those between the ages of 75 and 84 will increase from 12 million to 26 million. This means that in 2050, more than 60 million Americans will be senior citizens--a population equivalent to France today.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.
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