Professor of Biology at University of California, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, is one of the three scientists who won this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine. She spoke to Satyen Mohapatra during a recent visit to India. Excerpts:
You were on President Bush’s Council of Bioethics. Why were you dismissed ?
I was to make reports on highly politically sensitive issues like cloning, stem cell research and enhancement (like increasing life span). While I could file a minority report with a differing view for the report on cloning, when it came to stem cell my report was not published officially and I was dismissed.
What was the Bush administration’s stand on sensitive issues like cloning, stem cell research and enhancement?
I found that the Bush administration was ‘backward looking’ influenced by certain religious views and wanted no research in these areas. I based my report on the best assessment of scientific facts which favoured research in cloning, stem cell research and enhancement. I urged them not to ‘distort scientific facts.
Was there political interference?
I had no illusions that decisions of Bush administration would be very politically influenced. But what disillusioned me more was that science was being presented in way to suit the Administration. Science should be accurate, what one does with it - can be politically motivated.”
Don’t you think cloning is wrong?
Cloning for human babies may be man’s idea, but cloning for making stem cells from embryos discarded by in vitro fertilization is not wrong, it does not hurt anyone. If pencils can be used to poke one’s eye we cannot say ban pencils, we must regulate the use of pencils.