AMERICAN LIFE LEAGUE
Action Required-Stop Clinton's Priesthood of Bioethics
The article by Mary Meehan, reprinted below, exposes a problem America is
having with President Clinton. Most Americans look to the clergy for
advice on moral questions. So American Life League is deeply angered by
the President's proposal to invent another body of experts whose mission
is to undercut the clergy. None of the churches trusted by the American
people have been consulted in developing this new panel of experts,
although the panel's task is to make recommendations on moral questions
of life and death. The American people do not look to this President or
his divisive appointees for advice about morality. The entire scheme of
anointing a priesthood of bioethics is a scam. It must be exposed,
denounced and defunded.
Let your members of Congress know-No Thanks, No Funds, Not Now, Not Ever!
Honorable , House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515
Honorable , U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
New bioethics panel: the usual suspects
by Mary Meehan
THE FACTS: The Clinton administration wants to appoint a National
Bioethics Advisory Commission.
THE IMPACT: Many people considered for membership on the commission
support physician-assisted suicide, abortion, fetal research and/or
The Clinton administration's National Bioethics Advisory Commission hasn't
been formally announced yet, but euthanasia opponent Rita Marker already
hopes it will be "defanged and defunded."
Richard Doerflinger, an official of the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops, said names proposed for the Clinton commission so far suggest that
it may be even "less representative" than the recent National Institutes of
Health (NIH) Human Embryo Research Panel-adding that this "hardly seems
possible." He said the bishops must decide whether to propose some names
of [their] own or "oppose the whole thing."
Why all the fuss? On Dec. 2, when he announced a restriction on proposed
government funding of human embryo research, President Clinton added that
"we are planning to move forward with the establishment of a National
Bioethics Advisory Commission over the next year." Later, right-to-life
groups were surprised to find that the administration had published a
notice about the proposed commission in the Federal Register last Aug. 12,
inviting public comments and names of people to fill 15 seats on the
The comment period closed before most pro-lifers even knew about it.
Comments came largely from bioethicists and medical groups. Among the
people proposed for membership on the commission are:
* Several individuals who believe doctors should help some patients commit
* One who approved "rare instances" of infanticide and another who
suggested killing some coma patients;
* Many who support abortion, fetal and/or embryo research.
Clinton's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is handling the
commission proposal and a staff member there told the Register that it
"could be several months" before commission members are chosen and a formal
announcement is made. More names of possible members may be solicited, the
The Federal Register notice stressed issues related to "research on human
biology and behavior," but the OSTP staffer said that if commission
members want to look into physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, "we
would not consider that beyond the scope of their activities."
Professor Arthur Caplan, director of a bioethics center at the University
of Pennsylvania and one of more than 50 people proposed as commission
members, said the commission, "to be credible, should take on some issues
first that are not hot-button questions."
In a Jan. 16 interview, he said it could probably reach consensus on
issues such as research on the mentally ill and on emergency patients.
But Caplan suggested that "you're not going to get consensus from a
committee format about highly divisive moral questions" such as euthanasia
and embryo research.
A review of people proposed for the commission found three-law
professor Alta Charo, Dr. Bernard Lo and ethicist Thomas Murray-who
served on the recent NIH Human Embryo Research Panel. All three voted to
recommend federal funding of embryo research.
Charo is on the board of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research group
that supports abortion. She's also on the board of International Projects
Assistance Services, which promotes abortion in poor nations. Last year
she told the Register that this group "manufactures abortion equipment."
In 1989 Lo was one of 10 doctors who wrote in the New England Journal of
Medicine that "it is not immoral for a physician to assist in the rational
suicide of a terminally ill person." While acknowledging that this "is a
crime in many states," the physicians stressed that "we know of no
physician who has ever been prosecuted in the United States for prescribing
pills" for a patient's suicide.
Dr. Christine Cassel, also proposed for the national bioethics commission,
co-authored that 1989 article. Three years later, writing in the same
journal with two other doctors, she suggested guidelines for legalizing
physician-assisted suicide. "The time before a controlled death," the
doctors wrote, "can provide an opportunity for a rich and meaningful
goodbye between family members, health care providers and the patient."
Ethicist Larry Churchill, also suggested for the commission, is another
supporter of physician-assisted suicide. Last year he said that, by
helping to legalize it, medical leaders "would enhance the public trust
Another commission nominee, ethicist Robert Weir, wrote in a 1992 article
that assisting suicide is sometimes "the right and compassionate thing to
do." Earlier, in his 1984 book on Selective Non-Treatment of Handicapped
Newborns, Weir said that killing a handicapped baby "can be justified,
but in rare instances." He suggested that newborns are "potential persons"
who "will at some future point naturally meet the requirements for
membership in the personhood club as long as the rules for membership do
not change between now and then."
Ethicist Daniel Wikler, another possible member of the bioethics
commission, has proposed changing the rules about brain death so that
patients in a "persistent vegetative state" can be declared dead. In a
1988 article in the Hastings Center Report, Wikler suggested that "the
body of the patient in persistent vegetative state is still alive and
could remain so, but the patient is not."
With sufficient "re-education," he thought, the public might accept
action to kill the body: "Just as the public accepts the idea that
brain-dead patients may have their vital organs removed . . . so may
they come to accept the administration of an agent that causes cardiac
arrest to patients in persistent vegetative state."
Others suggested for the commission include:
* Father John Paris, S.J., who in the 1980s testified in favor of
withdrawing IV artificial feeding from long-term coma patients. He also
opposed right-to-life efforts to obtain surgery for "Baby Jane Doe," a
New York infant with spina bifida;
* Charles McCarthy, a former NIH employee who told the NIH Human Embryo
Research Panel last year that using an embryo for research may be "a mark
of respect" for that embryo;
* Judy Norsigian, co-author of The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, a women's
guide that strongly supports abortion;
Caplan, who described himself as "more conservative" on some issues and
"more liberal" on others. He said he opposes legalizing physician-assisted
suicide. He has supported fetal research, though, and he told the Register
that "embryo research should be done on a limited basis with embryos that
are going to be destroyed." But he said he's not sure whether any research
now proposed is important enough to justify this.
In a 1988 article in Transplantation Proceedings, Caplan justified taking
organs from babies diagnosed as anencephalic (that is, lacking a large
part of the brain) for transplant to others. Since such children "cannot
make choices or even have wishes or desires and lack the means to be aware
of pain or to suffer in any way, it is difficult to imagine how they could
be harmed in any way," Caplan wrote. Later, however, he indicated that the
public was not ready to accept this step.
Among others proposed for the bioethics commission are at least two
defenders of traditional medical ethics: Professor Russell Hittinger of
the Catholic University of America and Dr. Edmund Pellegrino of George-town
University. Several others-such as an advocate for the mentally ill, a
critic of genetic engineering and a doctor who exposed research fraud-might
offer independent viewpoints. And there are some whose positions could not
The Register suggests, though, that President Clinton may choose a
commission heavily weighted against traditional medical ethics.
Nevertheless, he did oppose physician-assisted suicide during the 1992
Mary Meehan is the Register's medical ethics correspondent.
Taken from the "National Catholic Register," February 5, 1995. For
subscriptions contact the "National Catholic Register", P.O. Box
260380, Encino, CA 91426-0380, (800) 421- 3230.