Skip to main content /transcript



Did Bush Make the Right Choice on Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

Aired August 10, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight: President Bush's stem cell decision. It's getting criticism from the right.


ANDREA LAFFERTY, TRADITIONAL VALUES COALITION: This is genetic cannibalism, not scientific advancement.


NOVAK: And the left.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the research is so important, let's have the full range of research.


NOVAK: Is anyone happy with it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the things you learn as president is that we're not able to make all people happy all the time.


ANNOUNCER: From Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left: Bill Press; on the right: Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council; in New York, Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler; and in Portland, Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

George W. Bush's 11-minute address to the nation on stem cell research got thumbs up from the people. According to the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll, 50 percent approval and 25 percent disapproval. But you'd never know that from outspoken critics.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy and social conservative leaders say that even the limited embryonic stem cell research advocated by the president is morally wrong. Caregivers and scientists say the president's proposal is so limited that it provides no real help at all.

So what's next? A push for more access to embryos for scientists? Or, will the president be able to hold the line?

Donna Brazile, Al Gore's presidential campaign manager, is sitting in for Bill Press on the left, before she leaves for Nashville to join up again with her pal Al.

We're going to ask each of the guests quickly, to give us -- each of them to give us his take on what he thinks of the president's speech last night. We'll start with Mr. Connor.

KEN CONNOR, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Bob, I'm profoundly disappointed by the president's decision. He has abandoned the principle that has governed western medicine for 3,000 years, do no harm in favor of a new ethic that says the ends justifies the means, and it's OK to kill some, in order to cure others.

NOVAK: Congressman Jerry Nadler?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Well, I'm very disappointed because by limiting the stem cell research to the existing relatively few cell lines that are already exist, the president is condemning thousands, maybe millions of people to continue to disfigurement or disease or perhaps early death, that could be avoided by the research if he permitted it to be done.

NOVAK: Senator Gordon Smith?

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: Bob, I think the president rendered a Solomon-like decision that provides hope, and health care, and healing to those afflicted with horrible diseases. At the same time, he recognized the inevitability that these 60 lines have already had the nuclei removed. And they had are -- either use them or we will lose them.

And I believe that the number I hope is sufficient to let us know whether or not, stem cell research on embryos will, in fact, provide the hoped for miracles.

NOVAK: Donna Brazile?

DONNA BRAZILE, CO-HOST: Senator Smith, Senator Kennedy announced a couple of hours ago that he intends to hold hearings next month when the Senate returns to Washington, D.C. How will you vote on this matter when it goes to the floor?

SMITH: Well, I think we need to give the president's proposal a chance. I favor embryonic stem cell research, but I also think that the president has made a proposal that opens the door, let's us do the research, find out the answers, before we ultimately have to cross this ultimate moral question. Is life present or is this potential life, as the president stated last night. I believe it's potential life. BRAZILE: Will you support full federal funding in the Senate?

SMITH: Yes I will. And yet I think that the boundaries the president has laid out, I think are sufficient for this time and provide sufficient hope to people seeking a cure where I believe there's enough here, that we'll be able to find the answer for them.

NOVAK: Congressman Jerrold Nadler, let me see if I can understand what your position is. You want to give a complete free pass to the scientists in the white smocks to do whatever they want to do, no moral compunctions, you know any mad Frankenstein creation okay with you?

NADLER: No, certainly not. That's not my position. And I don't know where you got the suspicion it is, but I do think at -- let me say two things.

One at very least, the president ought to have taken the so- called Frist compromise supported by people like Senator Frist and Senator Hatch, who are very much right-to-life people, who say why not let embryos that have been created in the course of in-vitro fertilization that are going to be discarded anyway, why not take stem cells from them so you have an adequate number of stem cell lines to do the research that the scientists say we need to do, if we're going to see the potential for these potentially miraculous cures of various diseases. That's the very least.

I would go further, personally, and because, it really comes down to the question of whether you think a blastocyst, an early stage embryo, a bunch of cells, no nerves, no nerve cells, no hard cells, no differentiated cells whatsoever is a human being or not. I do not. And for that reason...

SMITH: Well let me say..

NADLER: Let me just finish. For that reason, I would say that it's perfectly legitimate to take stem cells from embryos at that stage for any legitimate experimentation of medical purposes.

BRAZILE: But Ken, Jerry Falwell said last night that he could live with this. Why are you so uncomfortable with this, when clearly this will help the president with moderates and independents?

CONNOR: Donna, I guarantee you if President Al Gore had come out with this position, Jerry Falwell would have been howling with indignation. Congressman Nadler seems to suggest that he equates size with significance. If that's the case, then he's most valuable person in Congress today.

NOVAK: Congressman Nadler, I'd like you to listen to something said the other day by Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition. It's a very harsh criticism, but I think it's worth listening to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAFFERTY: We must not continue the slide into Nazism by deliberately creating life to kill it. This is immoral and it must be stopped.


NOVAK: She used the word Nazism. There is a similarity, is there not, sir...

NADLER: No, sir.

NOVAK: Between just between what the Nazi doctors did in the concentration camps when they took dead people. They're already dead and did research on them. And using these dead embryos to do it.

NADLER: No, what the Nazi doctors...

NOVAK: And didn't the Nuremberg Agreement say that civilized countries couldn't do that any more?

NADLER: No, I think you've got it somewhat incorrect. First of all, dead people, presumably with their consent, or the consent of next of kin or something are used -- the cadavers are used in anatomical in medical schools all the time. And we don't consider that Nazism.

What the Nazis did was to do medical experiments on live people. That was what was terrible, that they took live human beings and did medical experiments on them. And that is beyond the pale. Now to compare that to removing a stem cell from a blastocyst, an early stage embryo, I don't agree with Senator Smith I think it was, mischaracterize what I said. I don't equate size with being a person. What I do equate is having some organs, some nerve cells.

SMITH: Jerry.

NADLER: Some heart. Now I am aware that certain religious persuasion -- certain religious groups, the Roman Catholic church, various other groups believe that it's a human life from conception. Other religious beliefs do not. I don't think that is political question.

SMITH: I've got to jump in if I can. Congressman, I did not say that about size. I would never say that.

NOVAK: That was Mr. Connor who said that.

NADLER: Mr. Connor, I'm sorry.

SMITH: So I want you to know that. And I frankly agree with Jerry Nadler that this is nothing like Nazism for crying out -- what an outrageous statement. The truth of the matter is what's trying to be done here is to save life, not take life. And I think the other side is representing an important theological position, but it is not the only theological position. And I think there are others that are legitimate. And I think what I believe is life begins with mother, not with a scientist laboratory.

CONNOR: Bob, this is not about theology. This about science, the undisputed scientific fact of life is that life begins at conception. This business about it being a particular religious view, we shouldn't get into the business of which religious view affirms when life begins or when one gets a soul. What happens is that at conception, we have human life.

What has happened in this case, and what the president has affirmed is that human embryos have been killed for the purpose of utilizing their stem cells. And now he says we're going to put the full faith and credit of the United States government behind experimenting on these stem cells which were stolen from these live human embryos.

SMITH: You would have to be against in-vitro fertilization to hold such position. I am for in-vitro fertilization.

CONNOR: I'm against a practice, which creates excess or extra frozen embryos which relegates a human being to a life of suspended animation. I do not oppose a practice...

SMITH: That is a reasonable thing to say that life begins with a mother.

NADLER: Let me suggest the following if I could. The country is very divided for example over the question of abortion. Anyone who is pro-choice has made the decision that they're willing to kill a fetus much more advanced than an embryo, or willing to allow the mother to decide that.

So anyone who is pro-choice certainly has to say that it is well worth taking an early stage embryo, which is basically a clump of cells, undifferentiated cells. And that the rights of that clump of cells are far less, whatever they are, if they're anything more than zero, than the rights of a born human being to medical breakthroughs that could prolong his or her life or let him walk again.

NOVAK: Senator Smith wanted to get in.

NADLER: Someone who's pro-life either is a fundamentalist view that from the conception it's a person and you can't touch it, or may take a more -- a different view that once it's implanted in the womb, you can't touch it.

But even earlier than that a lot of pro-life people say it -- that if you're going to discard the embryo anyway, why not use it to save lives?

NOVAK: Senator, did you want to get in, please?

SMITH: Bob, I want just want to make the point. I mean, scientists tell us that nearly half of fertilized eggs never implant in a uterine wall. And I don't believe God is taking their lives. And I believe He's the author of life, but I think that the soul of a human being is put in place with flesh and blood in mother's womb and not in the scientist laboratory. And that's why I believe that the president called this potential life. It is potential life.

But to suggest that it is a person at this point, I think this is simply wrong.

BRAZILE: But Ken, as you can see, you have a dilemma here. You have many anti-abortion senators who clearly support your position on abortion, now, support an additional federal research for this important issue. How do you intend to keep them in line as following as this matters comes up to the floor for a vote?

CONNOR: The indisputable scientific reality is that human life begins at conception. That's not a fundamentalist view though it is a fundamental fact of science. Now the problem is...

BRAZILE: But there's disagreement on that, I must say.

CONNOR: Life is a series of changes in our form. I'm 54. I don't look like I did at 24, or 4, or 4 months. And Lord willing, if I live to 74, I won't look the same either. The fact of the matter is that Jerry Nadler began as a human embryo, Senator Smith began as human embryo. So did President Bush.

BRAZILE: But these are frozen embryos that are in a petri dish. And they're...

CONNOR: But we brought three of those frozen embryos to Washington, D.C. Three people, 9 1/2-month-old twins, Luke and Mark Borden, 2 1/2-year-old Hannah Strigee (ph), all of whom were adopted as frozen embryos. I held them in my arms at press conference and I wish the president would have done so as well. He should have heard from those children and their parents.

NADLER: Which proves nothing other than what we all know and agree to, which is that an embryo, a tiny embryo at that stage is a potential human life, but it is not at that point a human being.

BRAZILE: That is correct.

SMITH: That's exactly right.

NOVAK: All right, we're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll talk about that inevitable demands for the government to go farther than the president wants in funding.


BRAZILE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Donna Brazile sitting in on the left for Bill Press. Tonight in the CROSSFIRE, three people with three different views of President Bush's stem cell decision. In the studio Ken Connor, president of Family Research Council, who thinks Bush went too far. And New York, Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who thinks Bush did not go far enough. And in Portland, Oregon, Republican Senator Gordon Smith, who thinks Bush's decision is just about right.

Bob? NOVAK: Senator Smith, I would like you to listen if you would to one of your colleagues, another pro-choice -- another pro-life senator who believes in federal research of embryonic stem cell research, Senator Orrin Hatch.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: There is one worry though I would raise, and that is the little bit more than 60 stem cell lines are in the private sector right now. And I'm concerned whether those are enough.


NOVAK: But isn't it the case, sir, that the president has not gone far enough, even for you and Orrin Hatch, because now the word is, there's not even 60 stem cell lines available. It's more like 10 or fewer than 10 that are available.

SMITH: Well, I assume the president based this number on something that he got authoritatively from somewhere. So I can't speak to that, but if you're right, then Orrin Hatch is right, because you got to have a minimum to know exactly what the potential is here.

So it may be that the president has just kicked the can down the road a little ways, but we're going to have to come back to this question, is this human life or is this potential life? But I'll tell you, I was there when Senator Hatch, Senator Frist and I testified in a Senate committee. And Dr. Frist made a very good point where he said you know, as a heart surgeon, I have taken the hearts, the beating hearts out of living people whose brains are dead and given them to the body of another person still with a potential to live.

So these decisions, we're already make them. I just simply say we should make them. If we err here, let's err on side of health care and hope.

NOVAK: Go ahead, Ken.

CONNOR: Bob, we don't do that in the case of murder victims. We don't do that in the case of people who have been deliberately and wrongfully killed, because we say. And the law recognized the doctrine of the fruit of the poisonous tree. It says government can't benefit from a wrongful act, because to allow government to maintain that benefit would be to create a perverse incentive to perpetuate the wrongdoing that gave rise to it in the first place.

NOVAK: Senator Smith...

SMITH: Clearly Bob, the hearts that Dr. Frist was talking about are those who do consensually allow this to happen when they are brain dead.

NADLER: The embryos are obtained from couples who in effect create those embryos for the purpose of in-vitro fertilization.

SMITH: And they do it voluntarily.

NADLER: And they do it voluntarily and they do willingly. And the fact is, it is a shame if those embryos are going to be discarded anyway, if we shouldn't at least take a stem cell from them, in other to prolong and better life.

NOVAK: Senator Smith, I just want you to approach the practical matter. All day, today, we have heard from scientists, from caregivers, from other people, who are saying that the president has opened the door. And they want to walk through it for a much less, limited program of federal research, for stem cell research with embryos. And this is exactly what the pro-life and the conservative critics of the president say. He has just opened the door to a much broader program. As a practical politician, you have to agree that's probably so, isn't it?

SMITH: I believe that's so. I hope it's so. And frankly, I think that the president stated this is potential life, but if you leave a divided cell in a petri dish for 100 years, you're going to end up with divided cell in a petri dish. Because it does not have the breadth of life yet. It is not in a woman's womb. And the woman's womb is where you have the moral boundary, at least by my reckoning.

So I hope that that's where we get to. In the meantime, I'm very grateful this president left that door open.

BRAZILE: You know Ken, many scientists who are upset with the president's decision didn't think he went far enough are planning to take their research now to the private sector. What are your thoughts on that subject in terms of the private sector getting involved in this and perhaps going even further?

CONNOR: Well, we think it's morally wrong to kill embryo in a private lab. And we think it's morally wrong to use federal funds to kill an embryo. And moral principles aren't divisible, but the president has tried to split this moral principle. He simply can't do it.

And the senator has showed us where it leads. We're no longer talking about whether it's morally permissible to kill an embryo to benefit another. Now we are asking ourselves how many do we need to kill to optimize and maximize.

BRAZILE: Have you spoken with anyone at the White House? Have you shared your views since the president's speech last night?

CONNOR: I have indeed.

BRAZILE: Oh, good. What's their response?

SMITH: Well, Donna, I want, you know, the president is no more killing these embryos, than God is killing the embryos that are fertilized but never attached to a uterine wall.

CONNOR: But look, that is a specious argument, Bob. SMITH: It isn't.

CONNOR: When the we convict people for receiving and concealing stolen property, they didn't steal it, somebody else stole it. But we convict them because we say if we don't hold them accountable, then we're encouraging larceny. The mere fact that the president and the president of United States and United States government wasn't involved in the killing doesn't make research any less...

NOVAK: Congressman Nadler, did you want to get in there?

NADLER: Yes, I wanted to say first of all, I mean, the senator and Mr. Connor are talking on the assumption that the embryo has a great moral worth, that the embryo in fact is a human being, although Senator Connor -- Senator Smith would say after it's implanted.

Some of us think that the embryo is a clump of -- at that stage at least, the early stages, a clump of cells with very little moral claim against a human being, that that clump of cells if implanted in the uterus at some point will become a human being. But until it does, it is perfectly OK to utilize it for medical procedures and medical research to extend human life. And therefore, we ought to go a lot further than the president did because by his limitation, he is going to say that the cures that we expect will take a lot longer to come to.

NOVAK: Congressman Nadler, you have a vote in the Congress of United States unlike three of us sitting here, what -- you have very strong views. You don't think the president's going to go far enough. What are you going to do in the House about it? Are you going to put in a bill? You know you were defeated on the cloning proposal in the House. Do you think the House will really...

NADLER: Hopefully -- no, the House is -- well I don't know. People have a reaction to the word "cloning" and they don't -- I don't think most -- unfortunately, the leadership of the House I think was derelict in its duty. It rushed to a vote before people had a chance to understand the difference between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning, and to understand the implications. But the fact of the matter is, people in the House I think have different views of stem cell research, than whatever their views may be on cloning.

CONNOR: Well, what a sad view of human life, congressman.

NADLER: What a what?

CONNOR: What a sad view of human life. You're saying that size equates with significance.

NADLER: I am saying...

CONNOR: ...that tall people worth more than short people.

NADLER: Oh, come off it, I said no such thing.

CONNOR: But that's the logic.

NADLER: No, it is not the logic.

CONNOR: It's inescapable, the logic of your position.

NADLER: Let me tell you what logic is.

NOVAK: OK? I'm afraid that's the last word, because we're out of time. Thank you very much, Ken Connor. Thank you Congressman Jerrold Nadler. Thank you, Senator Gordon Smith.

SMITH: Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: And Donna Brazile and I will be back with closing comments.


NOVAK: This weekend, on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT AND SHIELDS," Mark Shields and I take on Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. That's Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 2:30 Pacific.

Donna Brazile, you and I are both Catholics. And I believe it is Catholic doctrine that you cannot separate morality and science. It's all one and the same thing. And I think President Bush's problem that's got himself in trouble, he's tried to have science here, morality here, and I think he has gotten the worst of both worlds.

BRAZILE: Well you know, Bob, I think the president really made a political calculation to continue to you know, improve his image with moderates and independents. And I think this is a purely political decision.

NOVAK: You think it's a good decision on his part?

BRAZILE: No, I do not; I think he should go further.

NOVAK: Well I don't think he should have gone this far because he should go to -- stay at the dance with who you are brung (sic). Is that right? Is that is the way it goes?

BRAZILE: Well, yes, but I also believe that if we can save millions of lives and improve the quality of life for people who are sick, we should.

NOVAK: Let's see how the science goes.

BRAZILE: From the Left, I'm Donna Brazile. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top