Moving Beyond the Culture Wars


Writing in the August 14 issue of Commonweal (“End of Discussion”), the Christian ethicist Gilbert Meilaender eulogized President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics, which President Barack Obama dissolved in June.

Meilaender argued that the Bush council, on which he served, got two important things right. First, it addressed the proper questions—the big questions about the purpose of human existence and the nature of human dignity. Second, it brought the right voices to the table; Meilaender maintained that members of the Bush council held diverse views, and that this enabled the council to address those big questions in and for our pluralistic society.

My own assessment of the council is mixed. Its membership, largely drawn from academia, was undeniably distinguished. It produced a number of important reports on topics ranging from human cloning to the ethics of screening newborns for genetic diseases. But the council's diversity was a pugnacious diversity, mostly pitting secular liberals against religious conservatives. Its composition reflected, in short, the “culture war” mindset of Bush himself.

Meilaender worries that a council focused on “practical policy options,” as the White House has signaled Obama's will be, “almost always leads to lowest-common-denominator proposals, from which the deepest and most important issues have been filtered out.” I don't see...

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About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.