Scientists Criticize Bush on Bioethics Panel Dismissals

Some 170 prominent scientists, researchers, and scholars have signed an open letter to President Bush criticizing his dismissal of two members of his Council on Bioethics. They charge that the decision to dismiss Elizabeth Blackburn, professor of biochemistry and physics at the US San Francisco and William May, retired bioethics professor at Southern Methodist University, was based on their outspoken support of stem cell research, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Blackburn published an opinion piece in the April 1 issue of the New England Jounral of Medicine in which she sharply criticizes the Bush Administration for the “political distortion of biomedical science.” Of the three new members appointed to the council, not one is a biomedical scientist, she points out.

“One, a pediatric neurosurgeon, has championed religious values in public life; … [another], a political scientists, has described as ‘evil’ any research in which embryos are destroyed,” she writes. The third new appointee has publicly praised Council Chair Leon Kass’ work as a “moral philosopher” invoking a “wisdom of repugnance,” which, in Blackburn’s words, involves “rejecting science, such as research involving embryonic stem cells, because it feels wrong to him.”

Blackburn and other researchers and scientists charge the Bush Administration with stacking scientific panels for political ends. “Scientific advice should and must be protected from the influence of politics,” Blackburn writes. In early March, Blackburn and Janet Rowley, a biologist at the University of Chicago, published a detailed critique of a report produced by the President’s Council on Bioethics that they argue makes a “selective use of science” to “justify the Bush Administration’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research,” according to kaisernetwork.org. Specifically, the report puts an overemphasis on the potential of adult stem cells and downplays the importance of embryonic stem cells, kaisernetwork.org reports.

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New England Journal of Medicine 4/1/04; Chicago Tribune 3/4/04; kaisernetwork.org 3/8/04; Boston Globe 3/6/04

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