Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Bioethics Council, is stepping down and will be replaced by Georgetown University bioethicist Edmund Pellegrino. Last year Kass oversaw the removal of a couple of members of the Council who dissented from his conservative views on biotechnological progress and replaced them with three much more conservative and much more tractable members.

Pellegrino is certainly a distinguished bioethicist and he is also a conservative Roman Catholic. Pellegrino serves as a senior fellow at the Christian bioethics think tank, the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

Pellegrino has been active in the national political debate over various biotech developments. For example, he participated in a press conference sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) in 1999 opposing all human embryonic stem cell research. At the press conference, Pelligrino urged that a congressional ban "should be extended permanently to include privately supported as well as federally supported research involving the production and destruction of living human embryos."

The bottom line: Pellegrino's appointment as chairman of the President's Bioethics Council will, if anything, increase that body's opposition to a lot biotechnological progress.