Skip to main content

CNN Access

Christopher Reeve on politics and stem cell research

Reeve said majority of Catholics support embryonic stem cell research  

Actor and activist Christopher Reeve has a personal interest in the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. He was paralyzed from the neck down when he was thrown from a horse back in 1995.

Reeve spoke with CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.

KING: You just heard Congressman J.C. Watts, a firm opponent of embryonic stem-cell research. He's one of the many voices President Bush is hearing from as he nears what the president himself has called a very agonizing decision, the toughest decision, he says, of his young presidency.

Christopher Reeve urges embryonic stem-cell research  
Nearly half House members urge stem cell funding  
Click here to learn how embryonic stem cells are harvested  
In-Depth: The stem cell debate  

Before I talk to you about it, I want you to listen first to some more advice the president received six days ago in Rome from Pope John Paul II. The president seated just a few steps away from the pontiff when he spoke out against such research. Let's listen.

(Video clip plays)

POPE JOHN PAUL II: A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at the very stage of conception until they are dead.

(End of video clip)

KING: The pope obviously, sir, a quite powerful voice in this debate. How would you counter that argument?

REEVE: Well, what the pope actually said was that he was against the creation of embryos that would be destroyed for research, and then the Vatican quickly issued a disclaimer the next day saying that all forms of embryonic research are against Catholic principles.

But what I would say is that there is a big discrepancy between the point of view of the Catholic hierarchy and the rank-and-file members of the Catholic Church around the world.

The only religion that I can think of where many people believe in the higher principles of faith, the forgiveness of sins and other higher, lofty principles, but day-to-day, for example, they don't agree with the idea that priests should not be allowed to marry; they want to plan their own families.

So, the latest polls done by the Harris poll and done by ABC show, in this country, 72 percent of white Catholics are pro-embryonic stem cell research, and when you ask all Catholics, 53 percent support it. So the president really does have a very good safety net.

KING: Are you yourself or any like-minded individuals in direct contact still with any leading members of the Bush administration? Or are you focusing your efforts instead on the Congress, hoping to reverse the president if he comes out against this embryonic stem-cell research? Where is the political campaign right now?

REEVE: It's working on both fronts, because any way you look at it, it's sort of like prohibition, people will drink anyway. There will be speakeasies or whatever.

A really tragic thing that might happen in order to save the Catholic vote, if the president comes down against federal funding for the embryonic stem cell research, what will happen is there will be a black market created in the face of that. And women literally will be paid to donate eggs that will later be destroyed. And that is something we really would not want to see, and that's why we need the federal oversight.

So, what we're doing is -- groups are talking to the president. He's being very receptive, but we're also gathering strength in the House and Senate. And right now there are 60 senators in support, including a lot of people who consider themselves anti-abortion. So, the point is, you can be pro-life and pro-human embryonic stem cell research at the same time.

KING: One of the ways to get the politics out of this, many would say, is put aside, at least for now, the issue of embryonic stem-cell research because of the great debate that we've been discussing, and focus just for now on adult stem-cell research, research using stem cells from adults. Why not?

REEVE: Well, that would be a big mistake because you could spend the next five years doing research on the adult stem cells and find that they are not capable of doing what we know that embryonic cells can do now. And five years of unnecessary research to try to create something that we already have would cause -- well, a lot of people are going to die while we wait.

KING: One of the debates within this debate over embryonic stem-cell research is whether, if you do go ahead with this research, to use only existing embryonic stem cells that have been donated to fertility clinics and the like, or whether to create embryos for the purpose of embryonic stem-cell research.

Where do you stand on that issue? Would you support creating embryos solely for the purpose of medical stem-cell research?

REEVE: Absolutely not. That's a very black market industry that we're trying to avoid, but it will spring up if the federal funding is not allowed.

And one thing it's important to remember is that every state in the union must license fertility clinics. And in these fertility clinics, every day of the week, fertilized embryos that will not be implanted in the womb are headed for the garbage. Now, if you believe that life begins the moment that an egg is fertilized, then it would seem to me that there would be an outrage that these unwanted fertilized embryos are being thrown in the garbage.

And yet I do not see, or I'm not aware, that there's ever been legislation introduced to shut down fertility clinics. And that is a contradiction which really puzzles me, because you know, you're really saying that the state is sanctioning murder if that's what you think, that life begins at the moment of fertilization.

We don't see that happening. And what we want to do, scientists want to do is rescue cells that are headed for the garbage and use them to treat 100 million Americans who are suffering right now.

KING: You mention 100 million Americans. This is a debate in which just in this program we've heard the voice of the pope, voice of many of the politicians in Congress.

It's also a debate, though, with many personal stories, including yours, and from the world of Hollywood and celebrities. Michael J. Fox has testified before Congress saying he believes this research could help cure a disease he has, Parkinson's. Mary Tyler Moore has gone before the Congress and said perhaps in stem-cell research, including embryonic stem cell-research, is the cure for diabetes.

Tell us in your case, sir, how do you believe that this research could specifically perhaps help you?

REEVE: Well, in my case, I suffer from something called demyelination. And that means that, in one very small segment of my spinal cord, about the width of your pinky, the coating, myelin, which is like the rubber coating around a wire, has come off. And that keeps signals from the brain from getting down into the body.

So the human embryonic stem cells could be cultured and then sent right to the site, and they would know that their job is to remyelinate. And then the signals from the brain would go down properly, and I would get recovery of function.

But let me say that I think this research is important not just for people with spinal-cord injuries, but let's just take the case of people that have ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. There's no cure for it whatsoever. And it is always fatal within two to six years. The body just degeneratively falls apart.

Now, what a couple of researchers did recently is proof of principle, which is very, very important. It was Dr. Gerhard and Dr. Kerr at Johns Hopkins, and they were able to inject mice or rats with a virus which simulates ALS. They then injected human embryonic stem-cells. Then, over a period of time, the progression of deterioration was stopped, and all the rats showed recovery of function.

Now, that is proof, because some people say, well, we don't know what embryonic stem cells can do; it's never been proven. Well, that's a huge first step. And of course we won't know what they can do until we go and do the work. But the work must not be stopped, absolutely.

KING: All right. Christopher Reeve, we thank you for joining us from New York today to share your thoughts and your personal story on this very controversial issue of embryonic stem-cell research.



Back to the top