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Michael J. Fox Urges Congress to Approve Stem Cell ResearchAired September 14, 2000 - 2:32 p.m. ET
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LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Actor Michael J. Fox told Congress today it's time to act now to approve stem cell research that could lead to a cure for Parkinson's disease. Stem cells are controversial because their source is aborted fetuses and frozen embryos.
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MICHAEL J. FOX: This research offers the potential to eliminate diseases, literally save million of lives. So while I applaud your thoroughness, I can't help but say respectfully: enough. It's time to act on what we've learned.
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WATERS: Fox left his hit television show "Spin City" to devote full time to promoting Parkinson's research. He won an Emmy recently for best actor in a comedy series.
Fox was just one of several celebrities who descended on Capitol Hill today to press the Congress on stem cell research.
CNN medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor joins us now with more on why this issue matters and why it's so controversial -- Eileen.
EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, first it's important to know what stem cells are. They are so-called "blank cells" that can differentiate into any kind of tissue of the body, creating a potentially unlimited supply of spare parts for the body.
The controversy arises from where the stem cells come from. And medical researchers say those with the most potential come from human embryos, and those are either derived from aborted fetuses or from frozen embryos that are created in in vitro fertilization clinics. And those are left over and set to be discarded.
Now, critics say this is unethical, that by harvesting the stem cells -- and this is what they were talking about at this hearing today -- from these embryos, researchers kill the embryo. Allowing federally funded labs, they say, to conduct research using these stem cells is tantamount to the government trading one life for another. That according to the critics. But many doctors say it would be unethical not to do this potentially lifesaving research on embryos that will be discarded regardless.
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DR. JOHN GEARHART, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: When you consider what an embryo is at the stage that it is taken to obtain these cells, or the fact that you take tissue from a dead fetus, that the outcome or what one could view as the utilization of tissue to serve good, I mean to really -- we can -- from this tissue, we can grow roomful of cells and tissues that can be used in transplantation therapies. So I feel that it's an appropriate source and we should take advantage it.
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O'CONNOR: Now, patients like Michael J. Fox are hoping that stem cells will be able to form new nerve cells and replace those damaged in the brain from Parkinson's disease. Doctors say these tiny cells hold the key to cures for multitudes of illnesses -- Lou?
WATERS: Eileen, the politics of this -- Michael J. Fox alluded to it when he said enough already -- what is the underlying political reason for moving so slowly or not at all on this issue?
O'CONNOR: Well, the United States has had a lot of problems getting approval for federally funded labs to do this research, unlike in other countries, mainly because the debate over abortion is a very hot topic in this country. It's a very big political hot-button issue. And this debate on stem cell research centers on the pro-life versus pro-choice argument, abortion rights versus not allowing abortion.
WATERS: Wasn't -- isn't Michael J. Fox, in effect, talking about pro-life?
O'CONNOR: Well, that is, of course, what supporters of the research say. And that's what a lot of the medical researchers were talking about today. They were saying, look, abortion is legal here, in vitro fertilization is legal here. There's nothing illegal about what's happening with these fetuses. They're going to be discarded, is what the medical researchers are saying anyway. And to them, they say it would be unethical not to do potentially lifesaving research on this tissue -- Lou.
WATERS: And hence the frustration we saw at the hearing table today.
Eileen O'Connor, medical correspondent in Washington.
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