In late September 2001, I was asked to serve on the President's Council on Bioethics. My initial instinct was not to accept, because I was concerned that the Bush Administration would not be interested in considering fully the potential of certain controversial advances in basic biomedical research.
Unfortunately, my initial misgiving proved to be prescient. In a telephone call from the White House one Friday afternoon last month, I was told my services were no longer needed.
Three of the 18 members of the original council were full-time biomedical research scientists. Chairman Leon Kass, of the University of Chicago, has, in his published work, questioned modern medical and biomedical science and taken the stance of a "moral philosopher", often invoking a "wisdom of repugnance" - in other words, rejecting science, such as research involving embryonic stem cells, because it feels wrong to him.
William May, an impressively thoughtful and learned theologian and medical ethicist, has also left the council, and three new members have been appointed to succeed us. ...... The published views of the three new members differ sharply from mine and May's and are much closer to those espoused by Kass. Furthermore, not one of the newly appointed members is a biomedical scientist. One, a pediatric neurosurgeon, has championed religious values in public life; another, a political philosopher, has publicly praised Kass' work; the third, a political scientist, has described as "evil" any research in which embryos are destroyed.
I was assured repeatedly by the chairman that the science would be represented clearly in our reports.
Yet the best possible scientific information was not incorporated and
communicated clearly in the council's report, suggesting that the
presentation was biased.
How might perceived bias in a federal commission such as the bioethics council affect the ability of the nation to receive the best available scientific information on which to base policy decisions? Will researchers be unwilling to provide their expert opinions regarding their field of research for fear that they will be used to promote a particular view held by the council? I am afraid that this effect is already occurring.
When prominent scientists must fear that descriptions of their research will be misrepresented and misued by their government to advance political ends, something is deeply wrong.
But something has changed. The healthy skepticism of scientists has turned to cynicism. There is a growing sense that scientific research - which, after all, is defined by the quest for truth - is being manipulated for political ends. There is evidence that such manipulation is being achieved through the stacking of the membership of advisory bodies and through the delay and misrepresentation of their reports.
An article titled "UCSF scientist dropped from bioethics council" in the 28 February 2003 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, page A1, has additional information about the biases of the new members of the Bioethics Council.
The three new appointees are Dr. Benjamin Carson, the high-profile director of pediatric neurosurgery at John 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.
Carson is a motivational speaker who often invokes religion and the Bible an 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 a 2002 public forum discussing the council's cloning report, she talked about research in which embryos are destroyed as "the evil of the willful destruction of innocent human life."
In a 2002 book review in the neoconservative Weekly Standard, Lawler warned that if the United States did not soon "become clear as a nation that abortion is wrong", then women would eventually be compelled to abort genetically defective babies.
These people will fit in quite well with the sexist mentality of Chairman Leon Kass, who in an 2004 article in The Public Interest lamented that today's young women live "the entire decade of their twenties - their most fertile years - neither in the homes of their fathers nor in the homes of their husbands; unprotected, lonely ...".