April 14, 2024

Nobel laureate Blackburn was centre of bioethics wrangle

Elizabeth Blackburn was booted off Bush’s bioethics council

Elizabeth BlackburnThere’s a bioethical angle to this year’s Nobel laureates for Medicine and Physiology. One of the trio who shared the prize is Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian-born biologist who discovered telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, which has led to an understanding of how cells age. In 2001 she was appointed by President George Bush to his Council on Bioethics. However, she was outspoken in her criticism of Bush’s stand on human embryonic stem cell research and in 2004 she discovered that she had not been reappointed.

In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Blackburn later claimed that she had been sacked because she disagreed with the Council’s chairman, Dr Leon Kass, and because she had complained that the Council’s publications distorted the potential of embryonic stem cell research. The case became another piece of evidence that the Bush Administration was resolutely anti-science.

Carol W. Greider, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who shared the prize with Blackburn along with Jack W. Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital, also has a bioethics connection. She served on Bill Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission and also supports human embryonic stem cell research. ~ Science Progress, Oct 6

Michael Cook