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Saturday, February 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Bush dismisses 2 members from bioethics panel
By Rick Weiss
In their places he appointed three new members, including a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out precisely against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the "threats of biotechnology."
White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the terms of University of California, San Francisco biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and Southern Methodist University professor of ethics emeritus William May had expired in January, and they were on "holdover status." Asked whether, in fact, all terms had expired formally in January, she said they had.
Pressed as to why the pair had been singled out for dismissal, she said, "We've decided to go ahead and appoint other individuals with different expertise and experience." She would not elaborate.
The turnover renewed a recent string of accusations by scientists that Bush increasingly is allowing politics to trump science on contentious issues.
A Washington-based interest group last week released a report detailing what it called many examples of the administration distorting the scientific process to achieve desired policy answers relating to pollution, embryo research and other topics. Some in Congress also have been vocal on the topic, as have academics, scientific organizations and science-journal editors.
Blackburn said she received a call yesterday morning from a person in the White House.
"He said the White House had decided to make some changes on the council. He wanted to express his gratitude and said I'd no longer be on the council."
She said she had no warning and had not heard from the council's director, University of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass. She said she believed she was let go because her political views do not match those of the president and of Kass, with whom she often has been at odds at council meetings.
"I think this is Bush stacking the council with the compliant," Blackburn said.
Kass, who has written often about biotechnology's toll on human dignity, was traveling yesterday and could not be reached.
Bush created the council by executive order in 2001 to "advise the president on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology."
The group of scholars, scientists, theologians and others has produced several reports, including ones on human cloning, stem-cell research and the use of biotechnology to enhance human beings. But the council often has had trouble finding consensus.
The three new appointees are Benjamin Carson, the high-profile 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. All are respected members of their fields. And their writings suggest their tenures will be less contentious than their predecessors'.
Carson is also a motivational speaker who often invokes religion and the Bible and has lamented that "we live in a nation where we can't talk about God in public."
Schaub has effusively praised Kass and his work. In 2002, she described research in which embryos are destroyed as "the evil of the willful destruction of innocent human life."
Lawler said in 2002 that if the United States does not soon "become clear as a nation that abortion is wrong," women eventually will be compelled to abort genetically defective babies.
Michael Gazzaniga, a Dartmouth neuroscientist who sits on the council, said he was "upset" by Blackburn's ejection.
"She was one of the basic scientists who understood the biology of many of the issues we're talking about," Gazzaniga said. "It will be a loss for sure."
Washington Post research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.
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