Leon Kass has resigned his position as the chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics. I will miss his leadership. Kass is one of the great thinkers in contemporary bioethics and a writer of intense talent whose prose reads like poetry. As chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, he did a sterling job stimulating profound conversations about the most controversial biotechnology issues of the day. He even forged much consensus among the Council members in several reports, which must at times have seemed to him like herding cats. Contrary to some previous bioethics commissions I could mention, Kass refused to “stack the deck” by appointing only council members who shared one worldview. Thus, the Council, while unanimously rejecting reproductive cloning, divided bitterly about the propriety of human therapeutic cloning in its first report, Human Cloning and Human Dignity.
Because Kass is our premier apologist for the belief that human life has intrinsic dignity and value, which cuts sharply against the grain of the bioethics movement that views such thinking as irrational and discriminatory against animals (speciesism), he was subjected to intense vituperation and calumny. I responded to these attacks in the National Review Online.
Leon Kass is one of the wisest public figures there is. He is also a thorn in the side to those who believe that science is incompatible with traditional values; he has an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biochemistry, but unlike some people he somehow manages to understand that for all its achievements, science is not a source of moral values. Lots of people understand that, but anti-traditionalists call them ignorant of science. They can’t do that with an accomplished scientist, and it seems to annoy the heck out of them.