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Washington think tank pans Harper government's stem cell research panel 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m., January 11, 2007]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

OTTAWA  —  The Conservative government's pre-Christmas appointment of 10 members to a reproductive technology panel is being criticized by a respected U.S. think tank. 

The Washington-based Cato Institute's director of bioethics studies, Sigfrid Fry-Revere, this week published a commentary accusing the government of politicizing a scientific issue.  

Days before the Christmas break, Health Minister Tony Clement issued a press release announcing the selection of 10 members to the board of the recently created Assisted Human Reproduction Agency. The board members will monitor the agency which oversees reproductive technologies in Canada, including fertility clinics and stem-cell research.

The board includes former Nova Scotia premier John Hamm, who is a medical doctor, but also includes those who have spoken out in the past against abortion and certain types of stem cell research. 

"There is no one on the board with a history of advocating either for those in need of reproductive technologies or embryonic stem cell research," Fry-Revere wrote this week. 

"It is likely, given the composition of the board, that the regulations promised for nineteen months from now will have little to offer those in need of new reproductive technologies or embryonic stem cell therapies." 

Fry-Revere concluded that following the government's appointments that "there isn't much hope on the horizon for new reproductive technologies and embryonic stem cell research in Canada."

The Cato Institute describes itself as a non-profit public policy research foundation that advocates for the "traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace." 

The government also came under fire in Ottawa on Thursday when two Liberal MPs and infertility stakeholders held a press conference to criticize the government for failing to include fertility experts, patients and stem cell scientists on the board. 

There are three remaining board seats that are not filled and the participants at the press conference called on the government to fill them with experts and patients. 

"We end up with a rabbi and a nun (on the board), we end up with all this sort of religious, ethical stuff swirling around and we have left out the people affected," argued Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett. "It's distracting in this particular topic."

Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla accused the government of having "stacked" the board "with members who actually overtly oppose stem-cell research and the use of assisted reproductive technologies."

Four of the members of the board have been publicly criticized in the media for their views on related topics.

Neither Bennett nor Dhalla, however, would say if they believed the selection of the board would damage Canada's reputation with the medical and scientific community abroad. 

Clement said in December that the group was selected because of its "rich diversity of experience and perspectives." 

The ethical issues surrounding reproductive technologies and embryonic stem cell research are a hot political topic in both Canada and the U.S that often divides social conservatives from liberals. 

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 253-174 to bolster embryonic stem cell research. 

But the White House has vowed to veto the legislation, which failed to get the two-thirds majority required to override a veto. 

The Associated Press quoted the White House as saying the bill "would use federal taxpayer dollars to support and encourage the destruction of human life for research."

:  Related Links

> Cato scholar comments on Canadian stem cell research panel

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