Without missing a beat, President Obama has asked the newly empaneled Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (ever more on this blog to be referred to as PCSBI, because that’s just a mouthful) to do a comprehensive review of the issue of synthetic life on the heel’s of the announcement made by the J. Craig Venter Institute that it had created the first synthetic self-replicating life form.
Why do I say this bodes well for PCSBI? The President had the presence of mind, for one, to remember that he has a bioethics commission and to use it for precisely what it was created to do, to in the words of its charter “identify and examine specific bioethical, legal and social issues related to the potential impacts of advances…in science and technology.” And ta-da! Here is what some have called one of the most important advances in biology in decades.
And President Obama doing precisely what President Clinton did when Dolly the Sheep was cloned, called upon his bioethics commission to inquire as to what one should do or think about these matters. One major difference however: unlike Clinton who gave NBAC 90 days to write a report, President Obama is giving the commission sufficient time with 6 months to inquire and analyze this emerging issue.
Time will only tell what the commission will have to say in its report, but it is certain that if the commission proves its utility on this issue that it is likely to be tasked with similar timely and important topics for the President during its lifetime.
Summer Johnson, PhD