Membership shifts for bioethics council
■ The panel's chair says adding a neurosurgeon is needed for upcoming work on the brain and behavior.
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The panel that is supposed to guide President Bush on controversial biomedical matters is embroiled in controversy itself, with administration critics saying recent membership changes on the President's Council on Bioethics fit a pattern of politics being valued over science.
"It's looking like a pattern of concern, that he's not getting the type of advice that informed policy should be based on," said University of California, San Francisco biochemist and embryonic stem cell research supporter Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, who was not reappointed to the council when her term expired. "I didn't interpret it as a scheduled changing of the guard."
Dr. Blackburn and another stem cell research advocate, William F. May, PhD, a fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, were replaced by three people whose views "are likely to reflect those of the majority of the council and its chair," said a letter to Bush from University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan, PhD, and more than 170 other bioethicists and medical ethics experts.
Stephen Carter resigned in September 2002 and had not been replaced until now.
Council Chair Leon Kass, MD, PhD, denied that the changes were politically motivated, and Dr. May did issue a release stating he had always planned on only serving for two years.
In a Washington Post essay, Dr. Kass said the council was moving away from Dr. Blackburn's areas of expertise (such as reproduction and genetics) and would be working more on neuroscience and behavior. For these topics, he said the panel would be better served by Benjamin Carson Sr., MD, director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
Council spokesperson Diane Gianelli added that at least six of the original 18 council members favored stem cell research and the council was not expected to work on stem cell issues for some time anyway.
Other new members are political philosophers Peter A. Lawler, PhD, chair of the Dept. of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga., and Diana J. Schaub, PhD, Political Science Dept. chair at Loyola College in Baltimore.