Scientists Bash Bush for Adding Pro-Life Members to Bioethics Council

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 4, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists Bash Bush for Adding Pro-Life Members to Bioethics Council

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 4, 2004

Washington, DC ( — President Bush is under fire from pro-cloning scientists after he added three members to his Council on Bioethics who oppose human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Last week, Bush appointed the three new members to replace one member who is retiring from the panel and two others who were among the more outspoken in favoring the destructive research.

A group of 170 scholars, researchers and physicians on Wednesday signed an open letter to President Bush criticizing him for the changes.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, chair of the Department of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote the letter, which says Bush’s council now "lacks credibility as a forum."

"The creation of sound public policy with respect to developments in medicine and the life sciences requires a council that has a diverse set of views and possibilities," Caplan wrote. "By dismissing those two individuals and appointing new members whose views are likely to closely reflect those of the majority of the council and its chair, the credibility of the council is severely compromised."

But Dr. Leon Kass, a University of Chicago ethicist and chair of the council, defended Bush’s picks in an editorial he wrote that appeared in the Washington Post on Wednesday.

"Even before the President’s Council on Bioethics had its first meeting in January 2002, charges were flying that the council was stacked with political and religious conservatives, appointed to rubber-stamp the president’s moral and political views," Kass wrote. "One newspaper story on the day of our first meeting even went so far as to compare us to the Taliban."

"Unfortunately, these membership changes were met with unfounded and false charges of political ‘stacking’ of the council," Kass added. "Such charges are as bogus today as they were when the council was formed."

Kass said removing two of the members has less to do with ideology and more to do with "the changing focus of the council’s work, as we move away from issues of reproduction and genetics to focus on issues of neuroscience, brain and behavior."

The three new appointees are Benjamin Carson, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University; Diana Schaub, chairman of the department of political science at Loyola College in Maryland; and Peter Lawler, a professor of government at Berry College in Georgia.

When not performing some of the most difficult surgeries in the world, such as helping conjoined twins, Carson is a speaker who is noted for his strong Christian views.

Schaub has praised Kass’ views in opposition to unethical scientific practices and has called embryonic stem cell research "the evil of the willful destruction of innocent human life."

Lawler has spoken out against embryonic stem cell research and, according to the Post, wrote an article in which he warned that if the United States does not soon "become clear as a nation that abortion is wrong," then women will eventually be compelled to abort genetically defective babies.

Those views are at odds with Caplan and his backers, who say embryonic stem cell research is needed to produce cures for various diseases — despite the greater availability and success of adult stem cell research.

"Carson is a distinguished surgeon, but the other two, frankly, we’ve never heard of," Caplan told the Chicago Tribune. "So even on expertise grounds, it’s hard to justify their appointments."

But Kass defended them.

"Both are known among their colleagues for their openness to discourse and their devotion to public deliberation and democratic decision-making," Kass wrote. "Their personal views on the matters to come before the council in the coming term are completely unknown, but I am confident that they will come to them only as a result of genuine reflection and a full consideration of all the scientific and other evidence."

The changes also drew criticism from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, an abortion advocate.

"A scientific panel ought to be chosen on the basis of science and on the basis of reputation, not politics," Kerry said, according to the Associated Press.

Related web sites:
Leon Kass’ letter on Bush’s picks –