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Stem cell ideologues

IN 2001, when President Bush placed tight restrictions on federal funds for research on embryonic stell cells, he also created a council to advise him on this and related controversies involving advances in the life sciences. Until now the bioethics panel has been roughly split, with some members critical of research that results in the destruction of embryos and others placing greater value on the work's disease-curing potential.


But last weekend, two members favoring fewer reins on research left the panel and three new members were added. Based on past statements and writings, the three have views that could lead them to question many medical and scientific procedures.

Gone from the panel are Elizabeth Blackburn, a biologist at the University of California at San Francisco, and William May, an emeritus professor of ethics at Southern Methodist University. The new members are Benjamin Carson, 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.

In addition to his work at Johns Hopkins, Carson is also a motivational speaker who has expressed regret that "we live in a nation where we can't talk about God in public." Schaub in 2002 referred to the destruction of embryos in research as "the evil of the willful destruction of innocent human life." Lawler has said he favors therapeutic cloning but in 2002 said that if the United States does not "become clear as a nation that abortion is wrong," women will be forced to abort babies that are genetically defective.

This tilting of the president's bioethics commission comes just weeks after the Union of Concerned Scientists released a well-documented report on dozens of cases in which the Bush administration suppressed scientific evidence that conflicts with its ideology on issues ranging from the environment to breast cancer. On all these matters, the president should be seeking the best information and opinions, not just ones he agrees with.

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