The Danger Surrounding a Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues was established on November 10, 2009, by President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13521. The Commission was composed of an advisory panel of leaders in the fields of medicine, science, ethics, religion, law, and engineering. It continued the tradition of nearly forty years of groups established by Congress or Presidents. Those on the Commission were meant to be advisors who could put aside political party affiliation and religious belief to discuss the ethics of biotechnology, abortion, physician-assisted suicide and other bioethical issues. Under the current administration, the Commission has not been formed. I disagree with those who are calling for the creation of a new Commission.
President Trump has shown an inability to appoint qualified leaders for various Departments. His appointees for judicial positions lean heavily towards Conservative Protestant, Evangelical, views. The people he has chosen to lead, legislate, and decide the Constitutionality of the law are either unqualified or biased. I urge those who are calling on the President to form a new Commission to cease. The premise of the Commission is that leaders in the field of medicine, science, engineering, theology, ethics, and law come together to discuss various viewpoints on bioethical issues. A President who has a history of appointing people who mirror his beliefs cannot create a Commission that would objectively discuss bioethical issues. Furthermore, President Trump’s alignment with Conservative Protestants, Evangelicals, creates an ethical issue for the Commission.
Bioethicists form their conclusions based on normative or empirical study. The ability to respond to the ever-changing field of biotechnology and medicine forces bioethicists to step away from strict interpretations of right and wrong. Theology is a part of bioethics, but it is not the underlying foundation of the subject. The problem with Protestant Conservatism is that it does not respond quickly to bioethical issues. Some Conservative Protestants try to retain the reflexive pattern of using biblical injunction by referring to biblical texts that may or may not apply to the issue at hand. In many cases, such as abortion, there isn’t an explicit ban on the procedure, instead evangelicals cite texts that infer abortion is immoral.
There are times when the Bible does not offer answers to bioethical questions, and so some Conservative Protestants will import other ways of resolving moral issues but fail to acknowledge they did so. Natural law is often used to replace biblical text. Natural law’s home is in Roman Catholicism. Unlike the Catholic integration of philosophical, theological and ecclesiological context in the use of natural law, evangelicalism is stripped of these aspects leaving the use of natural law incoherent.
The last problem with President Trump building a Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is the tendency for Conservative Christians to use gut instinct, political loyalties, self-interest and some other unrelated base for their moral beliefs. A decision affecting millions should not be based on “I just know,” or this is what is good for “my kind of people.”
Critics cite that the difficulties of forming moral norms directly from biblical texts exposes a weakness in evangelical norms. The evangelical method of defining moral standards is questionable when the morals are being created on shaky grounds. The use of natural law without the context used by Roman Catholicism, the lack of biblical texts citing clear regulations, and the use of “I just know” or gut instinct erodes sound discussion. A Commission must not be formed until a diverse set of beliefs and viewpoints are represented. To do anything else is devaluing the mission of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.