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Family Uses Pot to Help Son's Autism; Roe v. Wade Hits 40; Catholic Hospital Defense Upends Catholic Teachings; Obama to Name New Chief of Staff Today; New Homes Sales Down in December.

Aired January 25, 2013 - 11:30   ET



NICOLE DOLL, KPTV: They got a helmet, swaddled him like a newborn, tried mood-altering drugs. But Alex's daily violent behavior became the Eugene family's new normal. When he was 8, they made a heartbreaking decision to move Alex into a state-funded group home.

JEREMY ECHOLS, FATHER OF ALEX: It was like we were throwing him away, like we were just giving him to somebody else and saying, sorry, buddy, you know, you're not part of the family anymore. It was -- it was pretty rough.

DOLL: But was there a way to help him to bring back this smiling boy? Alex's parents looked into Oregon's medical marijuana program and the doctor approved Alex. Alex is now about one of about 50 children with a card like this.

While autism is not a qualifying medical condition like cancer or pain, in Alex's case, the seizures are, and after a few months of treatment, the Echols say they saw dramatic improvement.

ECHOLS: He went from hitting himself, bloodying his face, within an hour and half, he would be playing with toys, using his hands, something that, at that time, was almost unheard of.

This is an extremely rare occurrence for Alex.

DOLL: Alex's group home won't give him marijuana so about three times a week they give him the liquid form of the drug. Oregon law does not require a doctor to monitor a child's medical marijuana use.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Nicole Doll's report from our affiliate, KPTV, reporting that unbelievable story.

And our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has been following up on this.

I'm at an absolute loss for words when I see that. Cannot imagine those parents.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's so hard to be those parents. So hard for that child. You can understand why they --


COHEN: You know, the American Academy of Pediatrics is against legalizing marijuana. They've come out with an official position. So we reached out to Autism Speaks, which is a big advocacy group for people with autism and their families. And they say, "There is currently no adequate scientific evidence to advocate the use of medical marijuana for treatment of autism symptoms." So they're basically saying, hey, there's no science out there. And, Ashleigh, they are right. There isn't science out there saying this works. There's this family who's saying they had a good experience, other families who say they've had a good thing.

BANFIELD: Other families. How many? Is there a group? Have they found each other? Are they able to lobby? Hey, listen, when there are controversial drugs being tested, and you're in fear of dying, you do anything, regardless of what the government says, which is marijuana will continue to be considered a highly dangerous drug under federal law with no accepted medical uses. That, from the U.S. Appeals Court just this week.

COHEN: Right, so these families have found each other. The Echols family got the idea to do this when they read online about another family. So these families are scattered, they're online, they're talking to each other online. I don't think there's a formal lobby or anything.

So if they live in a state where marijuana is league, then they do what this family did and they try to seek out a prescription. If they live in a state where it's not legal, they can go to the doctor and ask for Marinol, which is a prescriptive drug that contains the same or similar active ingredient. These families are out there trying to do this. So while, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics and Autistic Speaks, these official groups say there's no science out there, these families say what else is there to try. This is it.

I must say, I did speak with a doctor who did not want his name used, but he treats children with autism and he said, look, it's a little hypocritical for us to say, as doctors, that we're so worried about the long-term effects of marijuana when we're giving these kids prescription drugs that can have some really heavy-duty side effects, both short-term and long term.

So I think individual doctors are beginning to question the conventional wisdom and individual doctors are beginning to say, maybe we should be giving these kids marijuana.

BANFIELD: Oh, it's just astounding when you see, A, the video, which is just mind-blowing, and then to see the effect afterwards.

Elizabeth, follow that and let us know where that goes --

COHEN: I will.

BANFIELD: -- and where the families end up in that believable. That's unbelievable.

Elizabeth Cohen reporting for us.

And by the way, the Echols do admit that the long-term side effects are unknown. And they say they're not advocating that medical marijuana be given to all autistic children.


BANFIELD: This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that guarantees a woman's right to choose abortion in this country. It was Roe v. Wade, and it ranks among the most divisive and controversial high-court decision in our country, in our country's history, and that is saying something. And that's why thousands of abortions rights opponents are expected to brave this 20-degree weather on the National Mall in Washington today for what's being billed as the March for Life. You're seeing it live right now at 11:37 eastern a.m. And it is very cold. The rally is going to officially get under way in a half hour. These folks turned up early. Former GOP Rick Santorum is going to be among the scheduled speakers at this event.

All of this as the Supreme Court of Colorado is being asked to take up a heart-rending case that pits a Catholic hospital against fundamental Catholic teachings.

Stay with me. Here's the case. In 2006, a pregnant woman who was carrying twins had a heart attack and she did not survive more than an hour at the St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, southwest of Colorado Springs. She died. And the twins that she was carrying died as well. The woman's husband was very angry at why she died, but more so why those twins died because they had tried to page the doctor on call, who did not respond, and there was no emergency C-section to save those children. Two state courts, though, have sided with the hospital in the suit that he brought, the wrongful death suit. They're basing the defense here on a Colorado law that holds that unborn fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

Let me back that up again. The Catholic institution, its defense, those fetuses weren't persons. You do not have to be a theologian at this point to see what you might consider some serious hypocrisy here. A total disconnect from the Catholic doctrine that has always maintained that life is a gift from God, it life begins at conception. Where does that leave you legally?

Joey Jackson here in New York to talk to me about this case.

I don't know if legally it leaves us anywhere, but it sure is a talking point.

JOEY JACKSON, ATTORNEY: It really is, because there's a distinction between what's morally right and legally right. Here's what you have. You have the Catholic teachings and the Catholic faith, Ashleigh, which has historically said conception, we respect life, we want you to bear life, we want you to have this -- you know, a fetus should be respected. Now you have the lawyers saying, look, Colorado's wrongful death statute, which protects, you know, people, right, that's the argument, people --


JACKSON: -- against negligence, which causes their death, the issue becomes, should that unborn fetus be entitled to the legal protections as a "person" under the law.

BANFIELD: Well, can I just state here -- and I don't have the actual statute in front of me, but it does say that the actual law says the term "person" cannot be applied to fetuses. But the law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on the grounds that those fetuses are not persons with people rights. That's just the law, period.

JACKSON: Yes. Now here's what you have. You can have the legislature -- it's not in the court's domain to make the law. It's the court's domain to interpret the law. That's why there's been two court decisions, which has said, look, we can't consider unborn fetuses persons under the law because the legislature says we cannot do so. However, the issue becomes, are they viable fetuses such that, if they were born, they would be people, and therefore they would have the legal rights.

BANFIELD: Take the whole Catholic thing out of this. Isn't this a cut and dry-wrongful death case? The guy who is on call does not answer the page. The woman is alive for a little less than an hour and those twins could have survived potentially.

JACKSON: Potentially.

BANFIELD: That's a big issue, potentially. They could have survived had someone attended to this issue or ordered an emergency C-section sooner.

JACKSON: 100 percent, but there are a couple issues there. The first thing is, when you say potentially, it seems that the experts suggest if she was given a C-section before the heart attack, the fetuses would have survived. That's one issue.


JACKSON: The second issue would be it would be different if we were talking about the woman's death. Certainly, a wrongful-death action would attach to his wife.


JACKSON: Right, her, because she's a person, she's alive. It gets trickier when you have the law as it's spelled out and, as you have read, that says it does not apply to the unborn. And therefore, unless the legislature changes the rule, expect the opinion to stand.

BANFIELD: OK. I'm going to read a statement from the Colorado Catholic Bishops because clearly this is a big deal for them to have to digest. They say this. "Catholics and Catholic institutions have the duty to protect and foster human life and to witness to the dignity of the human person, particularly the unborn. Catholic Health Initiatives" -- that's the group in charge of the hospital -- "assured us of their intention to observe the moral and ethical obligations of the Catholic Church. We will undertake a full review of this litigation and of the policies and practices of Catholic Health Initiatives to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

I just don't understand, because defenses don't happen overnight or like Perry Mason in court.

JACKSON: No, they don't. They're planned out.

BANFIELD: They take a year or more to say, gee, this is really odd. We're going to have to take a look-see.

JACKSON: I think it's a battle here between the attorneys who say, look, we have to look at the statue and we have to defend you with what the best legal arguments are that we can make on your behalf. And the Catholic teachings would say, wait a second, we want to respect fetus' rights, human rights, conception.

BANFIELD: Is that officially, in law, called a rock and a hard place?

JACKSON: It would be called a rock and a hard place.

BANFIELD: And is it a diamond because it's worth tens of millions?

JACKSON: It absolutely is. I think, Ashleigh, the way out of this is respect the family, settle with the family, give them what they rightfully deserve. It won't give the children back, but it will give them some financial support for the future.

BANFIELD: Joey Jackson, fascinating and jaw-dropping. Your stories always are.

JACKSON: To say the least.

BANFIELD: Joey reporting for us, live.

Back after this.


BANFIELD: President Obama will make another big staff announcement a little bit later on today. He's, in fact, expected to announce that Denis McDonough is the next White House chief of staff, and making him the fourth to hold the job in the past four years.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has been following this and is at the White House live this morning.

Mr. McDonough is no stranger to President. Obama. He's very, very close to the president, isn't he?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ashleigh. In a foreign policy capacity, he has been. This is someone who's been very much inside President Obama's close circle. He's advised him during the troop withdrawal from Iraq, during the current one going on in Afghanistan. And he's in a photo that's now become famous. He was in the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden's house. You'll see him sitting next to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This is someone who currently serves as the deputy national security advisor to President Obama.

But it goes back much further than that. He has been here at the White House since the beginning of President Obama's first term. In fact, he helped him as he was coming in to the White House. And their time together goes all the way back to when President Obama was a Senator-elect, when he was coming from being a state legislator in Illinois to the Senate. So all the way back to his time where he first came to Washington. He also was a foreign policy adviser, Ashleigh, to the former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle. So he has quite a long credential when it comes to foreign policy, but also he'll obviously be dealing as well with domestic policy issues as chief of staff.

BANFIELD: So, Brianna, I keep getting all these papers hitting my desk, one after another, of other announcements today. It's like a flurry of announcements. Who else is coming in and going out?

KEILAR: That's right. A lot of this is folks who are being promoted from within. Some of them may not sound familiar, some of them will, but some are definitely going to be become more familiar to you. Dan Fifer, currently the communications director at the White House, will be promoted to assistant to the president and senior adviser. This is a role that was recently vacated by David Plouffe, a top aide to the president. And Rob Nabors, who you may have heard during the fiscal cliff battle, the liaison between the White House and Congress, will be deputy chief of staff. Jen Palmieri, currently the deputy communications director, goes up to communications director. And Tony Blinken (ph), who has been a national security advisor to the vice president, will now serve in the deputy role to the president.

BANFIELD: All right. Brianna Keilar, thank you for that.

A quick addendum to Brianna's reporting, the president is expected to make his announcement of his appointments in a couple of minutes from now. A live statement, 12:10, from the East Room in the White House. We're going to be carrying it live right here on CNN, so stay tuned.


BANFIELD: The housing market is still trying to come back from the brink. We've had great reporting on it, and then some, eh. New sale numbers for December were just released and they're down. Not just a little. 7.3 percent from the month before. Overall, here's the better silver lining. It was the best year since 2009. So there's that.

Christine Romans is here with the good news.

I wanted to say when I heard down, we had this great trend and then I though, oh, holidays. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, end of the year.

BANFIELD: The end of the year.

ROMANS: Yes. When you look at the year, it was the best year since 2009. New home prices are up 7 percent, more than 7 percent year over year.

I want to show you what a recovering home market looks like.


ROMANS (voice-over): Last month, David and Grace Chu got married.


ROMANS: Now they're about to close on their dream home, a brand new four-bedroom, five-bath colonial.

DAVID CHU: We weren't really looking for a new home.

ROMANS: This house was on the market for two weeks before the seller accepted their offer. That's a good sign. More than 30 percent of all homes sold in December were on the market less than a month. Average time on the market for all homes, 73 days.

SUZANNE SUMMERS, SALES ASSOCIATE, COLDWELL BANKER: I try to tell my clients, if they really love the home, you know, be ready. Be ready for a bidding war. Don't be afraid of it.

ROMANS (on camera): Here are numbers. Existing home sales are at five-year highs, up more than 12 percent from this time last year. And new home sales are up 8.8 percent, despite a drop last month.

(voice-over): At the same time, rents are rising.

DAVID CHU: Our rent has gone up 40 percent over the past two years so I think that has really pushed us in particular to look for a home.

ROMANS: The Chu's new house moves more money through the economy than the sale of an existing home.

MICHELLE GIRARD, SENIOR ECONOMIST, RBS: Building new homes creates jobs in the construction sector, furnishing a new home from appliances. Starting from scratch means that it feeds through the improvement of home sales, and on new home sales side in particular, feeds through more broadly to the economy.

ROMANS: It sounds like the Chus are just beginning.

GRACE CHU, NEW HOMEOWNER: The interest rates are low so it's great timing.


ROMANS: And they're getting great interest rates. 40-year lows for mortgage rates.

But I have to tell you, Ashleigh, mortgage rates have been ticking up a little bit. Just a little. They are now at four-month highs. 30- year fixed rate, 3.42 percent.

BANFIELD: It's still low.

ROMANS: It is. It's still near the record low of 3.31 percent overall.

And on those new home sales, the smaller part of the market, existing home sales, most of us buy a house that's already been built. Those sales have been strong. A little bit of a pullback at the end of the year. But last year was a good year.

Look at the past 10 years. You had the peak of new home sales and then a record low in new home sales in just 10 years, and now trying to come up off the map.

BANFIELD: I'm trying to read those numbers. What is it, high in '05? I bought in '06. Brilliant.


ROMANS: So if you refinancing in '13, that is the important thing.

BANFIELD: In fact, I am, smarty pants, because you told me to.


In nerd money world, this is a big day because timothy Geithner, our treasury secretary, this is his last day on the job. I walked over to Christine's desk, saying, wow, it must be a big deal, and you told me -- and I'm going to totally embarrass you and --


-- make you tell the story on TV about your first meeting with him.

ROMANS: It was my second or third meeting. At the height --

BANFIELD: You're so important.


ROMANS: No. At the height of the financial crisis, in 2008 and 2009, I mean, I met with him several times with other reporters as well as he was trying to explain what was happening in the economy. Those were dark and foreboding days. One of those days, it was an off-the- record meeting with the treasury secretary and, suddenly, it turned to be on the record. And I was rummaging through my purse looking for something to take notes with because it was very serious, talking about saving the economy and the stimulus.

BANFIELD: You want to get it right.

ROMANS: I want to get it right and I want to get the quotes. All I have is a twistable blue crayon.

BANFIELD: In your bag.

ROMANS: In my bag. I'm a mom. I look at the treasury secretary and he smiled, and it broke the mood, if you will. Because it was a really scary time.

BANFIELD: Every subsequent visit, didn't he yell to all the reporters, "Hey, does someone have a pen for Romans."

ROMANS: Or someone would hand me a pen.


BANFIELD: Christine Romans, the mom.


If it would have been me, all I would have had is LEGO.


BANFIELD: So I hear you, sister.

Thank you, Christine Romans.

Back after this.



BANFIELD: I want you to meet a young boy, named Will Lourcey, just 6 years old. He saw a man asking for food and decided he should do something about it. And now that he's 9 years old, he and his friends are really making a difference.


WILL LOURCEY, FOUNDED FROGS: One day when I drove home from a little league game, I saw a homeless man with a cardboard sign and it said "need a meal." I told my mom I wanted to do something.

BO SODERBERGH: Will is a 9-year-old child. I hesitate to call him child. I think he's in a category of his own.

As a 7 year old, he decided to take on this issue of hunger.

LOURCEY: Welcome to FROGs.

My group is called FROGS. It means Friends Reaching Our Goals. And our motto is "Having fun while helping others."

I want you to write what we can do as a spring project.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER OF WILL: His big personality. Doesn't come from me.

LOURCEY: Fire me up. Pepper me.

SODERBERGH: I think every time you meet Will, you look at him and you say, are you kidding me? But together with his buddies, they have raised over $20,000, or the equivalent of 100,000 meals for area food banks.

LOURCEY: I have some friends, I guess.

A man from India (ph).

And these peaches are a delight.

SODERBERGH: When you see somebody who gets so engaged and gets so much of the community engaged, it's an endorsement of the battle we fight to end hunger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for your time. And, remember, no matter how tall or small you are, you can make a big difference.


BANFIELD: Do you know someone who's making a big difference in your community like Will? We would love it if you would tell us about it. And you do so by going to You could help shine a spotlight on their work and on them, and also enable them to do even more of what they're doing right now. So just go to and please nominate a 2013. Do it today. Don't delay.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Have a wonderful weekend. My colleagues, Suzanne Malveaux, is going to take the helm now with NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL.