Conservative bioethics takes “dignity” for a spin in a disquieting new report.
Scientific advances that alter minds and bodies in novel ways can make people uneasy. The President's Council on Bioethics has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a code word for addressing it. This body recently released a 555-page report, and what it reveals should alarm anyone concerned with American biomedicine and its promise to improve human welfare. The May 2008 issue of The New Republic spells it out: this brand of government-sponsored bioethics does not want medical practice to maximize health and flourishing; it considers that quest to be a bad thing, not a good thing.
Although the Dignity report purports to be based on universal moral concerns, it springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine. How did the United States, the world's scientific powerhouse, reach a point at which it grapples with the ethical challenges of twenty-first-century biomedicine using Bible stories, Catholic doctrine, and woolly rabbinical allegory? Read the article, note the credentials (better, the incredentials) of the report’s contributors, and laugh…or weep.