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Behind the Stem Cell Decision

Aired August 9, 2001 - 07:47   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, President Bush plans to address the nation at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight to announce his decision on embryonic stem cell research. This is a decision he said he wanted to make in a measured way and convince the American people that he put a great deal of thought into it. It's a right to life issue. It's also a scientific issue, though, because many doctors believe that some of the worst diseases out there could be cured -- could be treated by the further development of embryonic stem cell research.

Let's get a little bit more now on the science behind this with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christopher Reeve is sure he's going to walk again.

CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR: If you had the FDA involved and you had everybody working together, I am positive that in 10 years I'd be on my feet. And I would be -- I would not be sitting here in a wheelchair.

COHEN: What does Reeve think will do this magic? It's something called stem cells. They're blank cells that theoretically could be turned into any type of tissue in the human body and could be used to treat countless diseases.

So, for example, in Reeve's case, where the spinal cord was damaged, doctors could take stem cells, convert them into nerve cells, and give an injection of healthy cells to repair the damage. The same principle applies to the heart. After a heart attack, some of the cardiac muscle dies. Stem cells could be made into cardiac cells and then injected, healing the heart tissue.

(on camera): So where do you get stem cells? Well, that's where the controversy starts. One major source has been aborted fetuses. The other major source has been embryos from in vitro fertilization labs, embryos that are still in the lab because parents have decided not to use them to start a pregnancy.

DAVID PRENTICE, INDIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: The root of the debate really comes down to the ethical question of what's the moral status of a human embryo: Is it a person or is it a piece of property? COHEN (voice-over): For many people against abortion, the answer to that question is clear: both for fetuses and for frozen embryos in laboratories.

JUDIE BROWN, AMERICAN LIFE LEAGUE: A frozen embryo who is destined to be discarded is a tiny human being, an embryonic child.

COHEN: That's not how Reeve sees it.

REEVE: You don't really have an ethical problem, because you are actually saving lives by using cells that are going to the garbage. And really, I just -- I just don't see how that's immoral or unethical. I really don't.

COHEN: There is hope that scientists will be able to get stem cells from less controversial sources, such as from umbilical cords, but some researchers say those kinds of cells might never be as medically useful as stem cells from embryos. And so stem cells remain a debate that can never end, because it all depends on when you think life begins.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCEDWARDS: Once again, President Bush to address the nation, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, on his decision on embryonic stem cell research.

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