Membership shifts for bioethics council

The panel's chair says adding a neurosurgeon is needed for upcoming work on the brain and behavior.

By — Posted March 22, 2004

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

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.

Back to top

External links

The President's Council on Bioethics (link)

"Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," Union of Concerned Scientists report (link)

The American Society for Cell Biology press release on the removal of Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, from the President's Council on Bioethics (link)

"Reason as Our Guide," PloS Biology, April (link)

Statement from on membership changes on the President's Council on Bioethics, March 2 (link)

Open letter to President Bush protesting changes in bioethics council membership (link)

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn