Blog Post

White House Abruptly Sacks Bioethics Council

Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Writer Members of the President’s U.S. Council on Bioethics were given one day’s notice that their services were no longer needed. The firing comes only months after the group issued a public letter to the President expressing their dismay over his decision to provide taxpayer funds for embryonic stem cell research. According to a report by The New York Times, the firing occurred a few months before the Council’s mandate expires in September and was because the President is looking for a more “practical” advisory board. Reid Cherlin, a White House press officer, said President Barack Obama saw them as "a philosophically leaning advisory group" designed by the previous Bush administration, and he wanted to appoint a new bioethics commission which instead "offers practical policy options." The move has prompted a flurry of speculation that the advisory committee’s public dissent from the President’s executive order to fund embryonic stem-cell research may have precipitated their dismissal. In March, 10 out of 18 members of the council issued a public letter to President Obama expressing their dismay about the decision, calling it “a step backward” because it did not respect the moral and ethical reservations that still exist among the American public. Dr. David Prentice, a Senior Fellow for Life Sciences at the Family Research Council (FRC) noted in an article on the FRC blog that Obama likely dismissed them because “It would be embarrassing to have another round of criticism from an existing ‘President’s Council.’” The Council was created by President Bush in 2001 to serve as an advisory board on bio-ethical issues, replacing an earlier advisory committee to President Clinton. Members included experts such as Robert George of Princeton and neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga. Dr. Peter Lawler, a member of the terminated council, said that President Bush had convened a council not for the sake of giving his policies an imprimatur, but had given them “the additional mandate of public education, of developing a national dialogue on controversial bioethical issues.” Robert George is not convinced by Obama’s talk of a more practical council. “I don’t think Obama has any intention of appointing a commission that is more practical,” George said.  “He intends to appoint a commission that is more uniformly liberal than philosophically diverse.” George explained the Council of Bioethics under Bush was the most philosophically and politically diverse council ever created by a president.  Of 18 members, half did not share Bush’s convictions, and six were not even his political supporters, George told CNA. “Bush was falsely accused of stacking the Council with religious conservatives, but really, he did not stack it at all,” George said.  “It was incredibly diverse and that allowed the best possible contributions to be made.” Now, George believes that Obama is doing what Bush was falsely accused of doing.  “I believe his Council will have no substantial dissenting voice. There will be few, if any, members who do not support the president politically.” © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®