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President hit over bioethics panel shift

Ideological moves seen in dismissals

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has replaced two members of a panel that advises him on issues such as cloning and stem cell research, drawing criticism that he is stacking the bioethics group with ideologically friendly members.

Elizabeth Blackburn, a cell biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and former president of the American Society for Cell Biology, and William F. May, a medical ethicist and retired professor at Southern Methodist University, were dismissed from the President's Council on Bioethics.

Bush created the council in 2001, replacing a similar commission that advised President Clinton, to tackle issues including embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and assisted reproduction. He named its 17 members to two-year terms in January 2002.

Elizabeth Marincola, executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, a nonprofit group representing basic biomedical researchers, said Blackburn and May were often in the minority on the council as they provided dissenting views.

In their place, Bush named Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore; Peter Lawler, chairman of the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Georgia; and Diana Schaub, a political science professor at Loyola College in Maryland.

"It does seem alarming. It concerns me profoundly," Marincola said of the move. "The president is trying to ensure the advice he receives is the advice he wants to hear."

Senator John F. Kerry, the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, criticized Bush for allowing "politics and ideology to get in the way of good science."

"The United States of America ought to be doing stem cell research," Kerry said in a brief conversation with reporters as his campaign refueled in Indianapolis yesterday. "But regardless of your opinion, a scientific panel ought to be chosen on the basis of science and reputation, not politics."

The White House did not respond directly to the charges that Blackburn and May were replaced for ideological reasons.

Suzy DeFrancis, a spokeswoman for Bush, said that since their terms had expired in January, it was the president's "prerogative to make changes." All the council members' terms expired in January. "We decided to appoint other people with other expertise and experience," she said.

Blackburn told the Washington Post that she believed she was let go because her political views do not match those of the council's director, University of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass.

It's not the first time the White House has been criticized for wanting to hear mostly from friendly voices.

A private organization contended recently in a report that the Bush administration distorts scientific findings and seeks to manipulate the advice of specialists to avoid information that runs counter to its political beliefs. The Union of Concerned Scientists issued the complaint signed by a wide assorted of prominent scientists, including Nobel Prize winners and recipients of the National Medal of Science.

The White House has argued that its decisions are based "on the best available science."

The council itself was criticized last fall for proposing regulations that would force infertility clinics to report to the government the creation, use, and ultimate fate of all human embryos they produce and recommending that Congress consider restricting surrogate pregnancy and limiting the reproductive methods used in infertility clinics.

Bush created the council after he struggled with his August 2001 decision to limit federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to existing lines of cells.

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