WASHINGTONIn selecting the new director of the National Institutes
of Health (NIH) and the new surgeon general, President Bush steered a middle
course through political thickets and chose two men whose views on stem cell
research, human cloning, and other moral and ethical issues confronting
biomedical research dovetail with his own.
Both nominees appear likely to win Senate confirmation easily, in spite of
some dissatisfaction voiced about NIH director-designate Elias Zerhouni, MD, of
Johns Hopkins University, by some antiabortion groups and the unfamiliarity of
Washington officialdom with surgeon general nominee Richard Carmona, MD, an
Arizona surgeon and emergency medical administrator.
Vacant for 2 Years
Dr. Zerhouni will fill the NIH directorship that remained vacant for more
than 2 years after Harold Varmus, MD, left to head Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center. Dr. Carmona succeeds David Satcher, MD, who announced last
summer that he would leave office when his term ended in February.
Filling the NIH job proved a difficult task for the Bush Administration
because of tension regarding the issue of human embryonic stem cell research.
The President has approved a limited amount of such work, but many political
conservatives and religious groups oppose any use of embryonic tissue for
scientific research or therapy.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer acknowledged the issue in
discussing the two nominees. "They serve the President, they serve his
policies, and I don’t think you would expect the President to appoint people
who hold wildly different views than he does," he said.
In introducing Dr. Zerhouni at a White House ceremony, the President said
that the radiologist shared his view that human life should not be destroyed or
exploited to benefit others. "And he shares my view that the promise of
ethically conducted medical research is limitless," Mr. Bush said.