In an executive order creating the advisory commission that he promised when he made his stem-cell decision in August, Bush empowered the panel to study and make recommendations not only on embryonic stem cell research but also on cloning, euthanasia and "assisted reproduction," which primarily means in vitro fertilization. "It's important for the council to be able to look at a broad range of bioethical issues," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
But the portfolio raised concerns for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine because, spokesman Sean Tipton said, Bush's choice for chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics once questioned the ethics and safety of in vitro fertilization, or IVF. "It is troubling because Leon Kass is the chair, and I would rather they not talk about IVF at all," said Tipton. "At least they're only a study commission and there's no clear-and-present danger here. But we are very concerned about what the makeup of the rest of the panel will look like."
Kass, a University of Chicago bioethicist outspokenly opposed to human cloning and euthanasia, said in an interview that he did, early in the development of IVF technology, question it as an "unethical experiment on the unborn and potentially risky for the child-to-be." As early as 1979, however, Kass said he came out solidly in favor of using IVF "for the treatment of infertility for married couples."
Issues yet remain, he said Wednesday. The ethical questions of assisted reproduction have never been systematically studied and the field is "utterly unregulated so we don't know whether people on the side are engaging in something like cloning," Kass added. He is the only person yet appointed to the 18-member commission. Other ethicists, scientists, doctors, lawyers and theologians will be named in the next several weeks, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Every year, thousands of American women with fertility problems attempt to conceive by artificial reproduction. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has recorded some 100,000 U.S. births--250,000 worldwide--as the result of in vitro fertilization since the procedure produced the world's first "test-tube baby" in England in 1978.
Fertility clinics that perform IVF are the primary source of surplus embryos that scientists used for the study of stem cells and their potential for curing such diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. In August, Bush banned the further destruction of embryos for federally funded stem cell research.