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Pro-lifers give favorable marks to Bush’s bioethics appointees

WASHINGTON (BP)–Advocates of a sanctity-of-life ethic have given the appointees to President Bush’s Council on Bioethics generally favorable marks.

The long-awaited names of the council members were released Jan. 16, a day before the panel’s first meeting in Washington. The 17 members named by Bush to join chairman Leon Kass included medical researchers and ethicists, as well as professors of law and other specialties.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said “the voices of the unborn and those pleading for a defense for the sanctity of all human life will be represented eloquently.”

“Pro-lifers should be delighted that the president has named a bioethics committee that contains the names of some who will be immediately recognized as champions for the sanctity of human life,” Land said.

William Saunders, senior fellow for human life studies at Family Research Council, told Baptist Press he is “cautiously optimistic” about the council.

“I am not displeased with it,” Saunders said. The panel consists uniformly of “serious, thoughtful, well-credentialed people,” he said.

The council will weigh a number of contentious bioethical issues, including human cloning, embryo and stem-cell research, reproductive technologies and end-of-life decisions. It will advise Bush in order for him to “forge a policy on bioethical issues that reflects his strong support of science and technology, as well as his deep respect for human life and human dignity,” according to a White House release.

The make-up of the council had been awaited since Bush announced in August he would appoint such a body. The president’s announcement of his intention came when he revealed his policy on embryonic stem-cell research. At the time, he said the panel’s chairman would be Leon Kass, a well-known bioethicist and a professor at the University of Chicago.

Two law professors, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University and Robert George of Princeton University, were cited by Land as council members who are “champions for the sanctity of human life.”

At least four members have expressed publicly their support for a ban on human cloning, whether for reproductive or research purposes, according to The Wall Street Journal. They are Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Johns Hopkins University; Charles Krauthammer, a columnist for The Washington Post; James Wilson, a professor emeritus at UCLA, and Georgetown.

Gilbert Meilaender, a professor at Valparaiso University, and Kass are among panel members who also have taken conservative positions on some bioethical issues.

It would not be accurate, however, to say the council is stacked with conservatives, as some critics charged, a Southern Baptist bioethicist said. “Such a characterization strains the meaning of the term,” said Ben Mitchell, a biomedical consultant for the ERLC and a bioethics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago.

Krauthammer has supported embryonic stem-cell research in his writings, and both Stephen Carter, law professor at Yale University and author of The Culture of Disbelief, and Meilaender have said abortion is acceptable in some situations, Mitchell said. He also said Rebecca Dresser, law professor at Washington University, and Janet Rowley, a scientist at the University of Chicago, could not be considered conservatives.

Ronald Green, an ethicist at Dartmouth College and a member of a 1994 National Institutes of Health panel that recommended federal funds be used for embryo research, was among those who charged the panel appeared “stacked,” specifically against medical research and human cloning, according to The Boston Globe.

“They are mostly people who have publicly taken fairly conservative positions on the key issues facing this council,” Green told The Globe. “There is nobody, to my knowledge, who represents an advocacy position for new research directions.”

Mitchell said, however, “If people expected a radically different council from the Bush administration, they must be living in some fairy-tale world.” Only the council’s policy recommendations will demonstrate how conservative it actually is, he said.

The council’s members reflect a notable difference from a previous panel, Land said.

“There is such a cavernous gulf between the world view and perspective of President Bush’s bioethics council and President Clinton’s bioethics advisory committee that it is difficult, if not impossible, to do the difference justice,” Land said. “Suffice it to say that the chair of Clinton’s committee was the president of the college that hired Peter Singer, the infamous utilitarian ethicist who does not see any meaningful distinction between human infants and lesser mammals, such as chimpanzees.”

Princeton President Harold Shapiro served as chairman of Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission, whose charter ended last year after six years of work.

During its service, the commission recommended a ban on cloning for reproductive purposes, but also supported federal funding for research on embryos left over from infertility treatments and for tissue taken from aborted babies.

Bush met with his council Jan. 17 at the White House after the members concluded their first of two days of meetings. The panel’s first meeting focused on cloning.

The remaining members of the council are:

— Elizabeth Blackburn, scientist, University of California at San Francisco;

— Daniel Foster, researcher, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School;

— Michael Gazzaniga, researcher, Dartmouth College;

— Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, professor, Georgetown University;

— William Hurlbut, professor, Stanford University;

— William May, professor emeritus, Southern Methodist University;

— Paul McHugh, professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine;

— Michael Sandel, professor, Harvard University.

The president’s August announcement of his plan to form a bioethics council came during a speech in which he revealed he would not permit funding for stem-cell research that requires the destruction of human embryos but he would allow funds for studies using the more than 60 lines, or colonies, of existing stem cells “where the life-and-death decision has already been made.

While acknowledging Bush’s decision could have been worse, the ERLC’s Land and some other pro-life leaders expressed disappointment the president did not also bar funding for research on the existing cell lines.

Research on stem cells and on cloned human embryos results in the destruction of the embryos. The isolation of stem cells, the body’s primitive cells, for the first time in 1998 provided hope for producing cells and tissues to use as replacements in treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. While the ERLC and other pro-life organizations oppose embryonic stem-cell research, they support studies using stem cells from adult sources, which are not harmed in the process.