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The Ethics of Making Children With Three Parents; Clinton Presidential Documents Delayed Obesity Rates Drop in Young Children, Older Children Struggle

Aired February 26, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: A baby with three, genetic parents, scientists say they can do it, but should they? Who gets custody? Who has legal rights? The controversy of this genetic tinkering.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And he shook up the world, or was it the mob? New information that the FBI thought one of the most famous fights in history might have been fixed, we will hear from boxing legend don king, live.

Hello, everyone, I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, and good morning out West. It is 8:00 a.m. out there.

Those stories and much more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: And happening now, a passenger terminal at the Port of Miami is being evacuated. We're told it's due to a bag of unknown substance.

The evacuation is affecting Terminal B and also a Norwegian ship.

Miami-Dade police and customs and border protection are now working on this.

PEREIRA: Also, @ THIS HOUR, we're awaiting, of course, a big decision by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on the controversial religious freedom bill.

More than 80 national corporations are now joining the call for her to veto it. They include American and Delta Airlines, Marriott and AT&T. Sources are telling us here at CNN that Brewer is very likely to veto it.

The bill would allow businesses to turn away customers on religious grounds. Critics say it is designed to discriminate against gays.

BERMAN: Talk about an arctic blast, temperatures this morning have been below zero in parts of the Midwest with wind chills reaching 30- below. Highs today will be 15 to 25 degrees lower than normal across the Midwest and 10 to 20 degrees below average here in the Northeast.

And, tomorrow, even colder, no end this week to the deep freeze hitting the northern part of this country. PEREIRA: An internal e-mail obtained by CNN shows that the Department of Homeland Security has been cutting the number of federal air marshals for three years. They, of course, are the plainclothes officers who protect aircraft from terrorists.

The e-mail blames budget cuts, but it doesn't mention just how many positions have been eliminated.

BERMAN: ObamaCare enrollment has hit a milestone. Roughly 4 million people, according to the White House, have now signed up for coverage in the insurance exchanges. Folks still have about a month to go before the deadline for coverage this year.

Now, originally, the administration said it was hoping to have 7 million people signed up by the end of March. They now say 6 million is a more reasonable expectation.

All right, we have a huge story that has the government, parents, and scientists asking a lot of questions.

So we all know where babies come from.

PEREIRA: I'm glad we are not having that talk right now.

BERMAN: It's a basic fact of life, but now scientists are talking about doing something completely different, having babies come from not two but three parents.

Scientists say they can make babies that have three, genetic parents, but should they?

PEREIRA: That's the big question. The issue of whether or not to allow that to happen is being discussed by the FDA today. The idea is to use genetic material from three parents, three people, so that certain diseases can be avoided.

Now, of course, critics are crying foul. They are calling it creating "designer babies.: They're concerned that we're heading down a slippery slope where parents can seek out specific genetic traits like blue eyes or superior athletic abilities.

BERMAN: And joining us to talk about this is Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Also with us, CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos, whose specialty is health care ethics.

PEREIRA: Art, why don't we start with you since you're here with us in studio. Good to see you.

What we are talking about here is obviously an ethical battle. It is a scientific discussion, as well.

Do you think the approach is ethical and how does it work?

ART CAPLAN, MEDICAL ETHICIST: Well, it works this way. You have children born with mitochondrial diseases, and that sounds hard to understand, but it just means the batteries of their cells are defective.

So, you need energy. Remember all those high school books with the cells dividing and things happening, need energy to drive it. These kids are born with problems in the battery.

The technique is take an egg with a normal, healthy battery, a mitochondria, transplant it in an egg in a family you know has these diseases and then fertilize it, voila, in theory, no problem, no disease, because you have put in the right genes.

PEREIRA: The egg has DNA from two mothers.

CAPLAN: Thirty-seven genes are coming with the mitochondria, two mothers.

Although, in all honesty, I don't think we will have a dispute about who the mother is, just based on that.

It is pretty clear that the dad and the person who has the embryo and carries it to term are going to be the parents.

PEREIRA: But let's bring in Danny Cevallos. Is there going to be a problem there?

Do you see a potential for ethical issues about -- there's a lot of questions here, but let's start about the fact that there would be three parents.

Would somebody have a right to say that they can claim parentage to one of the -- to an offspring?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that becomes a problem. How will the law deal with what is a parent and how to define a parent?

But, Dr. Caplan, I have been a follower of Dr. Caplan's. He is a giant in the ethics field. I disagree with his position that this is somehow ethically incorrect, because -- and this is something that Dr. Caplan has said on air -- that it's somehow ethically incorrect, because this won't be available to the poor.

In reality, if it's not medically necessary, and that what we're talking about with these designer babies, then it is a luxury. And luxuries have traditionally first been available to those with disposable income.

So, if it's not medically indicated as you say in the industry, or necessary, there really is nothing ethically wrong with it only being available to those who can pay for the luxury at this time.

BERMAN: There is an issue of lines here, Art, really is the issue here. We can do it already. That's what scientists say. The scientists say they can do it.

But it opens up this Pandora's box, which is how much should you be messing with the genetic code?

CAPLAN: So, the issues of who's going to get access aside, the real issue is this. It sounds OK. You are fixing a disease. I favor doing this procedure and letting it go forward.

But it opens the door to other changes. Now, somebody says, you know, I want to move some genes, not the battery of the cell. I would like to make a stronger baby, a taller baby. I'm not that crazy about having a child who's short. Why don't we fix that, too?

So, the slippery slope is what I think is at issue. And I'm going to put my point this way. I don't think you can hold the disease repair hostage to worries about some slippery slope in the future.

BERMAN: If people need this to have healthy babies -

CAPLAN: I think they should get it now.

BERMAN: -- you think they should get it.

CAPLAN: But it's up to us to say, let's draw a line in the sand and say, no improvement, no cosmetic genetics, if you want to think of it that way, but we will allow disease repair.

It's up to us to make that rule. If we can't do it, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But saying we're not going to fix children, allow healthy kids to get born, because we're worried that someday "Super Baby" is going to come --

PEREIRA: So, Danny, is there a line to be drawn? Can it be drawn legally and is it not so much a black-and-white area? Is there a lot of gray here?

CEVALLOS: In the world of medical ethics, we have already drawn that line in the case of, say, plastic surgery. Plastic surgery is much more dangerous. Anesthesia, anyone will tell you, is a dangerous process.

And yet we ethically justify it. And it serves zero purpose, other than emotional well-being.

So, if we medically justify plastic surgery, I have to imagine it isn't a great step to say that, if we're combining some materials in a Petri dish, that this is somehow less ethical.

I guess the final part, too, is that, again, if the complaint is that this luxury is not available to those who cannot pay for it, then the next answer is, are we ready to say, this should be government subsidized? And I think that is a real problem.

BERMAN: Yeah, we're not anywhere near that one yet. I'm sure that will come up.

But, Danny, just before we let you go, again, I'm fixated on this issue of three parents, DNA from three parents. Art says he doesn't think it'll be a legal issue.

I have a hard time believing this couldn't end up in court at some point. You're dealing with custody of children. You're dealing with inheritance. It is DNA from three people.

CEVALLOS: Yeah, legally, we already have this issue when it comes to contracts for someone else to carry your baby.

We have so many different permutations of what is a mother, legally, because they can do a number of things. They can be surrogates. They can carry -- as anyone who has dealt with the issue, there are many different definitions, so to speak, of mother these days.

Imagine, if you add more and more parents into the mix. Legally and contractually and otherwise, the law will have to expand drastically to deal with this, once again, an example of technology outpacing the law.

PEREIRA: Well --

BERMAN: All right, Danny Cevallos, Art Caplan, great to have you.

PEREIRA: Certainly, big, big things for the FDA to consider, scientific, ethical. That's a lot of --

BERMAN: Yeah, I've got two parents. Man, that's enough.

PEREIRA: All right, ahead @ THIS HOUR, the Clinton papers, more than 30,000 documents kept secret, they're about to go public for the first time.

What do they say? And how could this affect Hillary's future?

BERMAN: And how to offend 200 million people, an entire nation says, we're not just about sex, you know.


PEREIRA: We could see some foreshadowing of the 2016 presidential race in Florida, today.

BERMAN: Yeah, Hillary Clinton is on the road. She's in Florida, giving two speeches today, one in Orlando and this is significant. This is her first speech about health care, this year.

Then, she's off to the University of Miami for another address.

PEREIRA: Last month, she said she's not thinking about 2016, and then told her supporters that they shouldn't think about it either.

BERMAN: Yeah, good luck with that.

PEREIRA: Meantime, back in Little Rock, about 33,000 pages of documents from Bill Clinton's White House years are supposed to be available for the public to see.

But, for whatever reason, they're still under wraps.

BERMAN: The documents are at the Clinton Presidential Library. They include communications of all kinds, including between Bill and Hillary Clinton during his eight years in the White House.

And this is obviously a huge deal for a ton of reasons. There is a new poll out today which speaks about just how badly Democrats would like to see Hillary Clinton run. Eighty-two percent say, yes, get in the game.

PEREIRA: Josh Gerstein is the White House reporter for Politico. He's written a story about this.

Good to see you, Josh. Thanks for joining us.

The documents were supposed to be made available more than a year ago. What's the holdup here?

JOSH GERSTEIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: It is not entirely clear. There is a three-stage review process for these documents. It starts out with the National Archives, which runs the Clinton Library.

From there, it's supposed to go to representatives of former President Clinton and also to the White House to President Obama's lawyers for review.

It's not clear precisely where this got stuck in the process, but we were told here at Politico that, at least as of September of last year, a lot of these documents were sent to the lawyers for the former president and the current president.

They seem to have been stuck until recently. We got word just yesterday that 25,000 of the 33,000 pages should be coming out sometime in the next month or two.

BERMAN: And that's a big deal. We are talking about 25,000 documents.

First of all, Josh, let me say, welcome. Great to have you here on the show.

Second, let me say, the piece in Politico today is fascinating, a comprehensive look at these documents and the history here.

Give us a sense of what might be in there, any potential bombshells for the Clintons?

GERSTEIN: Yeah, it's hard to know without seeing the documents themselves. But these are not just random documents from the, I think, 78 million pages of things they have there at the Clinton Library.

These are documents that were specifically withheld, kept back from the public over the last dozen years or so, because they contain confidential advice to the president or related to appointments that were made.

But a lot of it has to do with the scandals and the legal difficulties the Clintons found themselves in, matters like Whitewater, issues like the death of Vincent Foster, the White House attorney who was found in apparent suicide in a park near Washington here -- all kinds of issues -- the billing records that were eventually found in the White House. It's sort of a who's who, a litany of the Clinton era scandals, if you will.

PEREIRA: So you mentioned that one of the steps that has to get President Obama's approval. Could there be a role that he's playing in the delay of this or no?

GERSTEIN: Well, you know, it's pretty complicated for the Obama White House because back during the 2008 campaign, this actually became an issue. Folks, may remember at one point, the late Tim Russert held up a document in Hillary Clinton's face, basically, during a debate and said, "President Clinton is trying to keep records about you from the public." Mrs. Clinton said that wasn't true. So it's already been sort of a political liability for her.

President Obama, or then running-for-president Obama, made it an issue and said that he would see that these things came out more quickly, at least with respect to these records. That hasn't been the case. But obviously, if the Obama White House does hold them up further, there would be arguments that he's going back on what he promised back in 2008.

BERMAN: No, the president's been crystal clear on what he thinks about, you know, letting the sun shine in on documents like this.

Josh, you have covered campaigns for a long, long time, I know going back at least to 1996 in the Bob Dole campaign. How do you expect that Republicans will use this information? We've already seen Rand Paul talking about the Monica Lewinsky issue. We've seen the "Washington Free Beacon" publish some communications that Hillary had with a close friend.

GERSTEIN: Yeah, I mean, I think mainly for Republicans, it is a question of the mystery. You know, what's behind the closed door, that there are secrets lurking out there that could really haunt the Clintons or in particular, Mrs. Clinton.

In the past, it has been my sense that when these records actually came out, they were not quite as surprising or as damaging as people thought they would be. Some of Hillary Clinton's schedules, for example, and her phone logs came out in the 2008 campaign. I think you could argue pretty convincingly that the question of why they weren't available was more damaging than the fact of what was actually in them when they did come to the public eye.

PEREIRA: Well, Mr. Gerstein, thank you so much for joining us and making your debut here with us @ THIS HOUR, delighted to have you from Politico.


PEREIRA: Interesting, too, as people are weighing their thoughts about Hillary running, as she is making her decision, interesting to see how these documents could play into all of it.

BERMAN: Oh, someone is going to dig into them. I mean, you can bet someone's going to pore through every one of the single pages. It is a virtual guarantee we'll be talking about Hillary almost every week of the entire year. She got a book coming out too, folks.

PEREIRA: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, significant progress is being made in the fight against obesity for the nation's youngest children. But older kids still have a way to go. We are going to talk about the good and the bad next.


BERMAN: All right, welcome back. @ THIS HOUR, a lot of people are talking about this study, which has jumped off the front pages of newspapers. We're talking about huge progress in the fight against childhood obesity. This new study finds the obesity rate for two to 5-year-olds has dropped a whopping 43 percent in the past decade.

PEREIRA: And those early years really are critical. Because that's when kids usually develop so many of their eating habits. A 5-year- old that is obese, more likely to be a teenager who is obese and then an adult who is obese. But the study has found no significant changes, though, in obesity rates for some of the other age groups.

BERMAN: Alexis Glick is joining us now from Atlanta. She's a CEO of the GenYOUth Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.

And Alexis, again, I thought this story was astounding. I was not expecting progress in the fight against childhood obesity, only because it feels like we never hear good news in the fight against obesity. How did that strike you?

ALEXIS GLICK, CEO, GENYOUTH FOUNDATION: Oh, I am so happy to hear you say, John. Because today is such a euphoric moment for all the academics, nutritionists, the experts, kids, school administrators, parents. It is really satisfying, really humbling, really critical that we start to see the tide turn.

And yet, as you know and Michaela, you pointed out, there are still grave concerns about the obesity epidemic. But so rarely do we have an opportunity at this level of national attention to say we are making progress.

To me, this is one of the most defining moments in the childhood obesity epidemic because the awareness factor is probably at one the highest in the history of this nation. And this report will draw even more attention to the needs and desires that we need to do to focus on kids, particularly as we do at GenYOUth, focus on kids in the school building.

BERMAN: So what's doing it, then? The question is, if we're seeing these numbers, which are surprising to a lot of people, welcome news to you, what's behind them? GLICK: You know, there is a series of factors. Some will argue that even people like me, I'm a mother of four kids, I breastfed my four kids. A lot of doctors argue that the movement for more mothers to be breastfeeding their children, creating healthier nutrients and their body and two to 5-year-old is the most impressionable and critical age to make sure that we set up these children to be healthy, growing, vivacious, high achieving students.

So one they're talking about is breastfeeding.

Two it's -- look, it's the food we are consuming. It's the decrease in the consumption of sugary beverages.

But three, and I think most importantly, if I could highlight this, because the work we do, for example, our program (inaudible), we are in 73,000 schools across this country; 38 million kids a day focused on eating healthy and increasing the number of minutes the kids are physically active daily.

We work so closely with the first lady and many other leaders from the Partnership For a Healthier America, to CDC, you name it, President's Council.

PEREIRA: Right, right.

GLICK: I give them credit for is awareness. I think that's in large measure why we are seeing this.

PEREIRA: So Alexis, so the awareness is important. And to get beyond that headline, because I think that 43 percent drop is such a headline that is grabbing people's attention, we have to look past that for a second at the 20 percent obesity rate for those older kids, the 12 to 19-year-olds. That's a real concern, too. What do we need to do there? What can we be doing going forward with them?

GLICK: Excellent, excellent point. You know, I argue that there's three areas we need o focus on: policy, prevention, and awareness. When it comes to those who are watching right now, prevention is critical and starting prevention in your home and particularly as we focus in the K through 12 environment, policies are changing in this country in terms of the consumption of food, the importance of feeding kids a healthy breakfast.

Michaela, I'm not sure if you know this. But let me tell you this. Children who consume a healthy breakfast and who are physically active for a minimum of 30 minutes a day perform higher on mathematical tests up to 17 percent higher. They excel in reading. In many cases, they read at a grade level higher. So we call that the learning connection. The impact that eating healthy and being physically active has on performance, behavior, attendance.

So my response back to you is, let's make sure we find ways for kids to be active before, during, and after the school day.

PEREIRA: Exactly. GLICK: As parents, it is our responsibility to make sure we are talking to our school administrators; we are making sure our kids are not going hungry when they walk into the school building. And much of what the first lady is doing is making sure the kids get the proper nutrients that they can get in the school building at a minimum.

PEREIRA: Alexis Glick, thank you so much for this. You can hear the passion in her voice. She is GenYOUth Foundation CEO joining us from Atlanta. And it is -- I mean, she makes a good point. And I don't mean to minimize the 43 percent at all. That's huge, especially at such an important, pivotal age of little ones. Those habits are set in stone so often.

BERMAN: Well, that's the thing is you have to start somewhere. You should start with the two to 5-year-olds. It will carry it through.

It's a true story. Last night, one of my boys, and they're six, about to turn seven, turns to me for offering them to cake for dessert. We are enabling him. He says, "No, no, I don't think I will have it tonight." I'm like, "What? What is wrong with you?" But maybe the message is sinking in.

PEREIRA: You had a broccoli empanada for breakfast.

BERMAN: Don't look at me.

PEREIRA: So proud of you.

BERMAN: All right, ahead @ THIS HOUR, what is best for the kids, same-sex parents or straight parents? A judge weighs the evidence today in a landmark trial in Michigan.

PEREIRA: And the NBA making history and then making money. Have they gone too far to cash in on the first openly gay player?