The Corner

Bioethics Too Important to Leave to “Experts”

Bioethical issues are some of the most portentous we face, ranging from genetic engineering now on the horizon, to assisted suicide, to whether we should permit organ harvesting from the profoundly cognitive disabled, to the prospect of health care rationing.

Yet, with the exception of abortion, none of the major candidates in the recent unlamented election discussed their views on these matters. 

So, where does President-elect Trump stand on important questions of bioethics? Who knows, including Trump. Frankly, I don’t think he has given them much thought.

That’s politically dangerous because bioethics issues can explode into the public’s consciousness and grab an administration by the throat. Remember embryonic stem cell research? Remember Terri Schiavo?

I have been pondering this question since the election. I think a time has come for a different approach to these issues at the highest levels.

Over at the Weekly Standard, I urge Trump to appoint a presidential bioethics commission to help guide his and society’s thinking about these issues. Most presidents have these, but unlike past commissions that tended to reflect an administration’s own thinking, I urge a radically different approach, which I call a “populist bioethics commission.” From, “Bioethics in the Age of Trump:”

A populist commission would include academics and medical/legal professionals but would also welcome serious issues advocates with experience in public discourse and debate, giving the work of the board more energy and flash…

A populist bioethics commission would be as messy as democracy, its ideologically diverse members disagreeing with each other and sometimes the administration itself. Everyone loves a good fight. A commission consisting of social conservatives and liberals, moderates and libertarians, liberal academics and conservative think tank members would both generate media interest and offer the public and government a full range of opinions, helping, through sometimes heated discourse, find areas of common ground.

A populist bioethics commission would broaden its focus beyond offering arcane policy guidance. It should also sponsor public presentations and debates, have members appear on radio and television, and make extensive use of social media to engage the public in bioethical controversies and principles. If the people are paying greater attention to the potentially culture-changing issues within the commission’s purview, politicians would have little choice but to follow.

Such a commission could present political risks to the administration, to be sure. But enabling a populist bioethics commission to act independently of administration policy planning—and, well, rabble rouse—would be the best way to invite the public into thinking about these crucial policy issues and conundrums.

At the very least, it is better than having rdecisions about such matters imposed from “on high” by people that may not reflect the moral values those supposedly served.

Or to put it another way, bioethics is just too important to leave to the “experts.”

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