Bioethics News

Ben Carson: the candidate from bioethics

During the George W. Bush administration, Ben Carson was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.  Compared to separating conjoined twins in a landmark surgical procedure, this might seem like a small item on his resume. But there’s good reason to think that his bioethics experience helped shape the thinking that has made him so appealing to many social conservatives. 

I made the call about Carson’s appeal earlier this year in the Huffington Post.  Talking about who might win the hearts of traditionalists I wrote that “at the moment the early favorite is Ben Carson. He seems to have been sent down from central casting for the role. An up-by-his-bootstraps African-American neurosurgeon who speaks softly but carries a big rhetorical scalpel, Carson was a member of President George W. Bush’s bioethics council, which was notably skeptical about biotechnological innovations that challenged traditional notions of and respect for human beings. Enthusiasm for Carson could power him through the early going and give him reason to hang in for quite a while.”

The professional pundits and politicos missed this point because they failed to understand how central certain bioethical values are to social conservatives, especially evangelical Christians. For decades, bioethics scholars have been arguing about the ethics of new reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization and the prospect that while preventing suffering they might also undermine human dignity. 

Carson was a member of the bioethics council when they issued a report on embryonic stem cell research in 2005. At that time, conservatives were hoping for an alternative to the destruction of embryos in laboratories that wished to obtain valuable stem cells that might help scientists understand the origins of disease and how to use those cells for new treatments.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.