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A Bush Bioethics Brawl

Was Elizabeth Blackburn pushed out for speaking in favor of stem cell research? 


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In another dust-up between the Bush administration and scientists, the White House declined to reappoint Elizabeth Blackburn to the President’s Council on Bioethics. Blackburn, a cell biologist at the University of California at San Francisco, charges she was released for speaking out in favor of therapeutic cloning and against federal funding restrictions on stem cell research. Not so, says council chairman Leon Kass, a bioethicist at the University of Chicago. “This council is diverse by design,” he says. “Differences of opinion are not only tolerated, they are encouraged.”

In an op-ed piece, Kass wrote that Blackburn was released because the panel is changing its focus to issues of “neuroscience, brain, and behavior” and needed different expertise. Of 17 council members, she was the only one whose term was not renewed; another member retired. Blackburn contends the White House is stacking the council with like-minded members and that two council reports misrepresented scientific testimony. She worries that an ideological shift could discourage researchers from speaking openly: “If scientists see a bias, they may be afraid the presentation of their research is going to get used for some agenda or some viewpoint.”

Kass bristles at Blackburn’s charges. “Every member, on everything we have done, has known they have the right to add a personal statement in dissent,” he says. “Dr. Blackburn did not avail herself of that opportunity. She signed both reports about which she is now complaining.”

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