Obama Names Chairs of New Bioethics Panel

President Barack Obama today established a new presidential council to advise him on bioethical matters. It replaces the sometimes controversial council that advised President George W. Bush.

The chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will be Amy Gutmann, a political scientist and the president of the University of Pennsylvania. The vice chair will be James Wagner, a materials scientist and the president of Emory University in Atlanta. The 13-member commission will have five fewer members than the previous commission. The White House has not indicated when it will name the other 11 members.

The executive order establishing the new commission suggests possible differences with the previous commission. The Bush council was charged with studying "end of life issues, ... the moral implications of biomedical technology, and the consequences of limiting scientific research," among other things. President Obama's council will study "intellectual property issues, the application of neuro- and robotic sciences, ... conflicts of interest in scientific research, and the intersection of science and human rights." Both committees were charged with exploring stem cells and protecting human subjects in research.

Bioethicists have said that they expect the new commission to be more policy-oriented and pragmatic than its predecessor, which focused largely on philosophical and moral issues involved in biomedical research.