Pressure on President Bush as He Tries to Make Big
Decision About Stem Cell Research

Aired Friday, August 3, 2001; 12:06 EDT (CNN) -- LEON HARRIS, CNN Anchor: One debate still brewing involves stem cell research, with folks on both sides of the issue jockeying for the President's ear.

Jeanne Meserve is in Washington with the latest on that front -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN Correspondent: Cancer patients, Alzheimer's and diabetes suffers -- these are just some of the people who are hoping that embryonic stem-cell research will eventually lead to a cure. Researchers say growing and transplanting stem cells could help repair the damage caused by heart attacks, for example, or paralyzing injuries. But the clout of anti-abortion groups has barred the Federal funding of such research. On the other hand, opponents consider it morally unethical to destroy a human life, even if it means potentially prolonging the life of others.


JUDIE BROWN, American Life League: The fact of the matter is, a human being begins at conception/fertilization. And, if one takes a stem cell from a human being who is a human embryo and in the process one must destroy the life of that human being, this cannot be justified, regardless of whether or not the politically-motivated scientific community chooses to avoid, ignore, or evade the correct scientific terminology.

[ Editor's Note: Translation: "Although I am not a scientist myself, I can recognize the difference between good and bad scientists, and I am Holier than Thou." Did you pick up on the sanctimonious tone of the speaker regarding what constitutes the "correct" use of English words to explain scientific observations? The distinctions between life, human life, and a human person are rarely made. But a dead human life has certain rights as a "dead person," but not the same rights as a "live person." But what are the rights of a human person in a deep coma for many years? Is an embryo that is destined to "twin" a person or a multiple person? The idea that one may destroy an animal life with impunity but not a human life with impunity is clear, since most people eat animal meat but never human meat (even though its physical properties as meat are identical). Indeed, there is a word in the English language for the eating of human flesh... that's called cannibalism. However, there is no word for the eating of a human embryo, since that concept has never come up, to my knowledge. Thus, there are many more scientific concepts with no normal counterpart in the ordinary word and for which English {or some other natural language} is not the most appropriate descriptive language. When really novel ideas are being entertained by scientists who are doing actual experiments, the use of a more precise agreed-upon medial/scientific language becomes obligatory. Neither politicians (nor religious fundamentalists) who have not made the effort to immerse themselves in the scientific vocabularies of their topic may be the best persons to vote on new laws that govern the behavior they seek to legislate.]


MESERVE: Hoping to lay the groundwork for possible compromise to allow human stem-cell research to proceed,. Hon. Roscoe Bartlett (R - MD), a staunch abortion opponent, says "new research shows stem cells can be removed without destroying the embryo."

REP. ROSCOE BARTLETT (R - MD): Nobody wants to do research on embryos. What I'm talking about is taking a cell from an early embryo, then doing research with that cell. That's very different from doing research on an entire embryo; and it's not destroying an embryo.

MESERVE: President Bush is grappling with the politics of this issue. Some abortion opponents warn that, if Mr. Bush approves the research, he could no longer call himself a Pro-Life President. Leon, no telling when a final decision will be announced.

HARRIS: All right, Jeanne Meserve reporting to us live from Washington, D.C. -- Linda.

LINDA STOUFFER, CNN Anchor: Well, Leon, part of this debate, we keep hearing that stem cell research really could lead to cures for jut hundreds of diseases. Our CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has a case in point.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN Medical Correspondent (voice-over): This rat is paraplegic and he may be the key to helping Dr. John Mcdonald get his patient, Christopher Reeve, walking again

DR. JOHN MCDONALD, Washington University: Christopher Reeve, you know, had a fall from a horse during an equestrian event and basically landed on his head.

COHEN: So Dr. McDonald gave rats a similar injury and then injected some of them with stem cells. And it worked. This rat was paralyzed, got stem cells, and six weeks later his hind legs function again. By comparison, the rat on the right didn't get the stem cells.
(on camera): So if this has worked so well in rats, when can Christopher Reeve get this treatment? Well, the research hasn't made it past the "rat-stage" yet because, in order for it to be tried in people today, I believe that scientists would have to destroy human embryos, so some groups are fighting this kind of research tooth and nail.
(voice-over): And that makes Reeve furious. He's seen what stem cells can do for rats.

CHRISTOPHER REEVE: You see that, you get very excited. Never before, not till 1998 has there ever been such a powerful tool, such a resource that can give so much hope. And to have it just sitting there right in front of us ready to go while all this debate rages on is really, really frustrating.

COHEN: Here's how stem cells might work in humans. When Reeve fell, he injured the area around the top two vertebrae in his spine. The injury caused a cyst to grow inside the spinal cord. As the cyst grew, it damaged what's called the myelin coating around part of the nerve cells in his spine. Without that coating, the nerves can't work properly and Reeve can't move.

REEVE: If you imagine a wire with a rubber coating around it, that rubber coating allows conductivity, and if you take it away, the wire doesn't work.

COHEN: Here's where the embryonic stem cells come in. They're "blank" cells that can be turned into basically any type of tissue. In the case of the rats, doctors turned them into myelin-coated cells, injected them into the rats. The coating grew back where it was needed, and the rats could move their hind legs again.

For this to work in people, scientists would have to destroy human embryos to get to the stem cells. There are about 100,000 embryos stored in freezers in infertility clinics nationwide that parents don't want to use anymore to start a pregnancy. People against destroying embryos want to find some other way of finding stem cells. But Reeve says that could take years -- years that he'll spend in a wheelchair. And since his injury causes premature aging, years he says he might not have.


STOUFFER: Well, Elizabeth Cohen is with us to talk more about it. What about the question you asked? In the piece there, just because it works in an animal, do you have any guarantees that it will work in humans?

COHEN: There are no guarantees. This is something where those mice are very happy mice. It works in mice. It might not work in people. And in fact, just yesterday, we spoke with a bioethicist named Daniel Callahan, who met a few weeks ago face-to-face with George Bush and said to him... [This man, Callahan, is against embryonic stem cell research] and he said to President Bush, "why in the world would you want to destroy an embryo for such a big question mark, for something that might not work?"

STOUFFER: And, as President Bush decides the political end of this, answering the question about whether Federal funds should be used, what if he says they shouldn't? Will it really effect the kind of research that is going on across the country?

COHEN: Well, the researches say that it will. They point out that much medicine -- that all great foods and medicine have had -- most of them had had some form of Federal funding. Dr. Mcdonald, who was in the piece that we just saw, says "we're going to go at a snail's pace if we rely on private funding. For all the great breakthroughs we've had in heart disease and cancer, there has been a considerable amount of Federal funding."

STOUFFER: This is a difficult issue. A lot of people are very passionate about it. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much for that report.