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The Christian Right’s investment in bioethics
Nov 10, 2005  


Kathryn Hinsch is the founder of the Women’s Bioethics Project. In this report she documents the strategic investments the Christian Right has been making in a network of conservative bioethics thinktanks.

And in this speech she gives a summary of her findings:

Speech to the IHEU Appignani Humanist Center for Bioethics at the UN

By Kathryn Hinsch: Founder of the Women’s Bioethics Project

Friday, April 22, 2005

...From Leon Kass’ efforts captured by the March 7th Washington Post article “Conservatives Draft a ‘Bioethics Agenda’ for President,” to the right’s high-profile involvement in the Terri Shiavo legal battle, to the new Pope’s recent pronouncement that bioethical issues are on the top of his list, there can no longer be any doubt that the conservatives are weighing in on these issues.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the broad political climate. Based on the work of Rob Stein of the Democracy Alliance and others, it is well documented that the conservative movement in this country has spent the last thirty years building an intellectual infrastructure that consists of interlocking and cooperating elements that include conservative media, foundations, and think tanks.

Every day this conglomerate of conservative forces drives public opinion, advances legislation, emboldens conservative judges, and frames electoral politics to advance its agenda and to secure its power. It controls the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and it is this that we need to hold in our minds as we look closer at the struggle to define the bioethics agenda.

So who are some of the key players? I’m sure you are familiar with many of them: the National Catholics Bioethics Center, the Center for Bioethics and Culture, the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, and the American Bioethics Advisory Commission, who’s parent organization is the American Life League. These are just a few of the many organizations funded solely to promote and drive a conservative, overtly religious bioethics agenda.

It is important to understand that these organizations are not operating in a sphere outside of the conservative movement that I just described. Here’s a direct example: In Oct 2003 the Center for Bioethics and Culture posted an article on its website entitled “Who will be the next Joe Coors of Bioethics?” Joe Coors, of the Coors Brewing Company, was the businessman who provided the initial seed money for the one of the first conservative think tank founded in 1973, the very influential Heritage Foundation. The article was a plea for conservatives to step up funding of bioethical political initiatives.

Fast forward two years to a March, 2005 article posted on the American Journal of Bioethics Editor’s Blog to find out how well this plea for funding worked. The article, by bioethicist Art Kaplan, was titled “Have Conservatives Bought Bioethics?” and details how a group called the Philanthropy Round Table had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to bankroll the courtroom effort on behalf of Terri Shiavo’s parents. Kaplan reveals that The Philanthropy Round Table is actually a consortium of foundations (which includes the Coors family foundation) that funds conservative causes.

While it is interesting is that there are a few bioethics centers trying to push a conservative agenda, and that conservative foundations have decided to fund a few high profile cases, what the Women’s Bioethics Project finds even more compelling and, frankly, frightening, is that well-established conservative think tanks that have traditionally focused on broad economic, social, and foreign policy issues have recently added “bioethics” to their political agendas.

A few examples of conservative think tanks now focused on bioethics are the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., where Leon Kass is a fellow (2002 revenue: $17 million); the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. (2003 revenue: $1.8 million); the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. (2003 revenue: $4 million); the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington (2003 revenue: $4 million); the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. and Holland, Michigan (2003 revenue: $9 million); and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado, (2003 revenue: $127 million).

Why are these conservative think tanks now fervently working to shape bioethics policy? They see bioethics as a way to extend their conservative agenda. Their constituents are looking to them to provide education and counsel on these issues, and they believe, and does the Women’s Bioethics Project, that bioethical debate will be the battlefield for defining the kind of society we want to create.

The approaches these think-tanks take to bioethics differ because of their target audiences. For instance, The Discovery Institute underwrites promotional book tours for conservative bioethicists, Focus on the Family issues a series of mini white papers on “How would God want us to respond” to bioethical issues, and the American Enterprise Institute recently held a lecture for its membership on “How to think about Bioethics and the constitution.”

Regardless of the approach, what all these think tanks and centers have in common is that they are not focused on single issues; they cover an amazing breath including end of life, euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, abortion, stem cell research, reproductive technologies, and genetics to name a few. They are incredibly adept at tying these issues together in a unified conservative framework based on a concept of “human dignity.” This defines their position on any given issue and resonates with their audience.

In light of this well-funded, well-coordinated effort with large constituencies primed for political action on bioethical issues, is there still time to effectively promote an alternative progressive bioethics agenda? ...

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