Leon Kass sounds a warning about the perils of biotechnology.
WASHINGTON Leon Kass is willing -- reluctantly willing -- to indulge a request. I have asked him to refresh our interview of several weeks ago by reflecting on the case of Hwang Woo Suk, the internationally celebrated South Korean researcher who recently admitted to fabricating cloned stem cells. Dr. Kass thinks that a decennial White House conference on aging might make for an equally timely news peg. Health and longevity; dementia and death; euthanasia and living wills; performance enhancement and life-prolonging genetic manipulations--these are the subjects that really engage the mind of this 66-year-old physician and ethicist (and former philosophy professor of mine). As for embryos, stem cells, cloning and the uses and abuses thereof, they are "not the most profound of subjects," he told me over a pot of tea in the kitchen of his Washington apartment. "The embryo question is really about the means. The real question has to do with the ends to which we put this."
As far as Dr. Hwang is concerned, Dr. Kass is merciless, and he fires grapeshot: "Scientific fraud is always revolting, but it is fortunately rare and, in the end, truth will out. But in this case, American scientists and the American media have been complicit in the fraud, because of their zeal in the politics of stem-cell and cloning research and their hostility to the Bush funding policy. Concerted efforts have been made these past five years to hype therapeutic cloning, including irresponsible promises of cures around the corner and 'personalized repair kits' for every degenerative disease. The need to support these wild claims and the desire to embarrass cloning opponents led to the accelerated publication of Dr. Hwang's 'findings.'... We even made him Exhibit A for the false claim that our moral scruples are causing American science to fall behind."
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