Governor names final 4 members of stem cell panel

Foe of embryonic research included

July 07, 2006|By CHRIS EMERY | CHRIS EMERY,SUN REPORTER

Despite strong dissent from one of his own appointees, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. launched the state commission yesterday that will likely pour millions of dollars into the ethically charged field of embryonic stem cell research.

Ehrlich acknowledged the debate over the use of embryos in biomedical research but said "science will dominate" the panel's decisions about which projects will receive money.

The governor spoke during a news conference at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he named the last four members of the 15-member panel, which will direct spending of $15 million in state funds this year. One of his choices, an ethics professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., quickly declared his opposition to research using embryonic material.

"As the governor said, science will dominate this, but I am one of the people with a different perspective," said Joseph E. Capizzi, an ethics professor at Catholic University. "Without question, the perspective I represent is one that is opposed to destroying embryos for the sake of research."

The way the panel was selected all but assured that the majority would support embryonic stem cell research.

Many members were appointed by people or institutions that support embryonic research, such as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the University System of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University.

"There is a strong majority on the commission that will allow science to determine what research projects will be supported," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat and strong advocate of embryonic stem cell research.

This spring, Rosenberg and other Democrats pushed for state funding of embryonic stem cell research to counter federal restrictions placed on the science by President Bush. Federal funds are available for studies using adult stem cells.

The commission includes members from a range of backgrounds: scientists from both the Hopkins and Maryland schools, representatives of the state's biotech industry, an assistant attorney general, and several people who have diseases for which stem cell research is often referred to as a source of therapies.

Ehrlich's appointments included two experts in the religious aspects of biomedical ethics: Capizzi and Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, the former leader of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Baltimore.

In an interview after the news conference, Capizzi, who was nominated by the Maryland Catholic Conference, said he would probably vote against proposals to fund embryonic stem cell research.

Ehrlich conceded that there is tension over the issue, saying, "There are people of good faith who bring very strong moral convictions to this issue, to this area of research."

"There is so much promise here," the governor said of stem cell research. "It did not deserve to ever be bogged down with abortion politics or divisiveness."

Zaiman did not attend the news conference yesterday. His synagogue is a member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a national organization that supports embryonic stem cell research.

Ehrlich also appointed Bowen P. Weisheit Jr., a Baltimore real estate lawyer and board member of the Maryland chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Dr. Jack C. Chow, an expert in global health policy and a former assistant director-general of the World Health Organization.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. appointed Jack Schwartz, his director of health policy development.

Several advocates of embryonic stem cell research said they were happy with the makeup of the commission, despite Capizzi's appointment.

"He is only one member," said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Officials at Maryland Technology Development Corporation, the technology and business development organization that will provide administrative support for the stem cell commission, said they would begin contacting the members today to arrange the commission's first meeting.

"We are hoping to get the commission together as quickly as possible," said Renee M. Winsky, TEDCO's executive director. She said the financial and administrative infrastructure was in place for the panel to start its work.

The commissioners have several hurdles ahead of them before they can begin evaluating proposals. They must elect a chairperson from among their members, find and contract with out-of-state scientists who will rate the proposals, and establish a set of procedures and rules for deciding which proposals will receive funding.

chris.emery@baltsun.com

State stem cell commission

Brenda Crabbs --Easton resident with rheumatoid arthritis.

Joseph E. Capizzi --ethics professor at the Catholic University of America.

Dr. Jack C. Chow --expert on global health policy and former assistant director-general of the World Health Organization.

Dr. Diane E. Griffin --professor of immunology and microbiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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