Russert did not challenge Romney's misleading statements about stem cell research

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

On Meet the Press, Mitt Romney claimed Hillary Clinton "put politics ahead of people" because "she was one of 28 [senators] to vote against alternative methods" of stem cell research. In fact, while Clinton voted against legislation that would have provided funding for alternative research measures, but restricted embryonic stem cell research, she voted for a bill that contained provisions providing for research relating to "alternative method technologies" and also expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research. Romney also touted a recent "breakthrough" on "alternative methods of creating stem cells without having to create new embryos" while failing to note that the senior American scientist involved in the "breakthrough" has emphasized the need to continue embryonic stem cell research. Meet the Press host Tim Russert did not challenge Romney on his claims.

On the December 16 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, during an interview with Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, host Tim Russert did not challenge Romney's misleading statements about embryonic stem cell research. Romney claimed that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) had changed her position on support for alternative, non-embryonic stem cell research technologies, saying that she "voted for these alternative method technologies when she was first faced with it. But then, as she became a presidential candidate, she was one of 28 to vote against alternative methods. She put politics ahead of people." In fact, while Clinton was one of 28 senators who voted against the HOPE Act -- legislation that would have provided funding for alternative research measures, but restricted embryonic stem cell research -- she voted in favor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which contained provisions providing for research relating to "alternative method technologies" in addition to expanding funds for embryonic stem cell research.

In addition, Romney asserted that "the best source of our funding applications should be in terms of what is known as alternative methods" and went on to predict that "the source of great cures in this country is going to come from this [sic] alternative methods of creating stem cells without having to create new embryos." Romney then cited "this great breakthrough by Asian and American scientists," referring to the recent discovery by American and Japanese research teams, which James Thomson, the senior American scientist involved in the research, described as a "new way to trick skin cells into acting like embryos" by "reprogram[ming] skin cells into multipurpose stem cells without harming embryos." However, Russert did not note that Thomson has emphasized the need to continue embryonic stem cell research, as Media Matters has repeatedly noted. Indeed, in a December 3 Washington Post op-ed Thomson and Alan I. Leshner, the executive publisher of the journal Science, wrote that the research is still at "square one" and that the new developments "[f]ar from vindicat[e]" the Bush administration's policy "of withholding federal funds from many of those working to develop potentially lifesaving embryonic stem cells." Further, a November 21 New York Times article on the new technique reported that the lead scientists "caution, though, that they still must confirm that the reprogrammed human skin cells really are the same as stem cells they get from embryos." The article reported that "while those studies are under way, Dr. Thomson and others say, it would be premature to abandon research with stem cells taken from human embryos."

Contrary to Romney's suggestion that Clinton "vote[d] against alternative methods" of stem cell research, Clinton voted in favor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which included funding provisions for alternative stem cell research, in addition to expanding funds for embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, the legislation amended the Public Health Service Act to mandate that "the Secretary...conduct and support basic and applied research to develop techniques for the isolation, derivation, production, or testing of stem cells that, like embryonic stem cells, are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell typs of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are not derived from a human embryo." From the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007:

SEC. 498E. ALTERNATIVE HUMAN PLURIPOTENT STEM CELL RESEARCH.

"(a) In General- In accordance with section 492, the Secretary shall conduct and support basic and applied research to develop techniques for the isolation, derivation, production, or testing of stem cells that, like embryonic stem cells, are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are not derived from a human embryo.

"(b) Guidelines- Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this section, the Secretary, after consultation with the Director, shall issue final guidelines to implement subsection (a), that--

"(1) provide guidance concerning the next steps required for additional research, which shall include a determination of the extent to which specific techniques may require additional basic or animal research to ensure that any research involving human cells using these techniques would clearly be consistent with the standards established under this section;

"(2) prioritize research with the greatest potential for near-term clinical benefit; and

"(3) consistent with subsection (a), take into account techniques outlined by the President's Council on Bioethics and any other appropriate techniques and research.

"(c) Reporting Requirements- Not later than January 1 of each year, the Secretary shall prepare and submit to the appropriate committees of the Congress a report describing the activities carried out under this section during the fiscal year, including a description of the research conducted under this section.

"(d) Rule of Construction- Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any policy, guideline, or regulation regarding embryonic stem cell research, human cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer, or any other research not specifically authorized by this section.

"(e) Definition-

"(1) IN GENERAL- In this section, the term `human embryo' shall have the meaning given such term in the applicable appropriations Act.

"(2) APPLICABLE ACT- For purposes of paragraph (1), the term `applicable appropriations Act' means, with respect to the fiscal year in which research is to be conducted or supported under this section, the Act making appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services for such fiscal year, except that if the Act for such fiscal year does not contain the term referred to in paragraph (1), the Act for the previous fiscal year shall be deemed to be the applicable appropriations Act.

"(f) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary for each of fiscal years 2008 through 2010, to carry out this section.'.

By contrast, the HOPE Act provided only funding for alternative measures and would have allowed embryonic stem cell research be conducted only on "naturally dead" human embryos. From the HOPE Act:

SEC. 2. PURPOSES.

It is the purpose of this Act to --

(1) intensify research that may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions; and

(2) promote the derivation of pluripotent stem cell lines without the creation of human embryos for research purposes and without the destruction or discarding of, or risk of injury to, a human embryo or embryos other than those that are naturally dead.

SEC. 3. HUMAN PLURIPOTENT STEM CELL RESEARCH.

Part H of title IV of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 289 et seq.) is amended by inserting after section 498C the following:

"SEC. 498D. HUMAN PLURIPOTENT STEM CELL RESEARCH.

"(a) In General- The Secretary shall conduct and support basic and applied research to develop techniques for the isolation, derivation, production, or testing of stem cells, including pluripotent stem cells that have the flexibility of embryonic stem cells (whether or not they have an embryonic source), that may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, provided that the isolation, derivation, production, or testing of such cells will not involve --

"(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or

"(2) the destruction or discarding of, or risk of injury to, a human embryo or embryos other than those that are naturally dead.

According to an April 11 Washington Post article, "many scientists call[ed]" the HOPE Act "a phony alternative, in part because there is no agreed-upon definition of embryo death" and "[s]everal top-tier stem cell scientists ... ridiculed the idea." From the Post article:

The alternative measure, the Hope Act, would back efforts to isolate embryonic stem cells from "naturally dead embryos" that succumbed after being created in fertility clinics. Proponents say the approach avoids the ethics quagmire of intentional embryo destruction. But many scientists call it a phony alternative, in part because there is no agreed-upon definition of embryo death.

[...]

Several top-tier stem cell scientists, however, ridiculed the idea of stem cells from "dead embryos."

"The scientific community is just laughing at this," said Thomas Okarma, chief executive of Geron, a company based in Menlo Park, Calif., that says it is close to starting the first U.S. human tests of a therapy based on embryonic stem cells. Even if live cells could be isolated from embryos that everyone might agree are dead, he said, such cells would be especially likely to be abnormal.

"I couldn't imagine using these for a therapeutic product," Okarma said.

Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute, a public interest group based in Wellington, Fla., called the Hope bill "nothing more than political cover so politicians can go back to their constituents and boast that they are supporting 'ethical' stem cell research."

From the December 15 edition of NBC News' Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: These are embryos. These are, in your mi -- word, human beings, because they are -- it has -- life begins at conception. And these are surplus embryos from in-vitro clinics that are used for research. They are destroyed. Do you still support that?

ROMNEY: I have the same position. Let me describe it because there are two parts to it. One is what I think should be legal in our society, and the other is where should we devote federal funds. With regards to what should be legal in our society, as you know, embryonic and stem cell research, generally, is a very broad term. And so we have, of course, the adult sources of embryonic cells. We have so-called surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization, and then we have new development of stem cells through cloning or through embryo farming. And from a legal standpoint, I would outlaw cloning to create new stem cells, and I would outlaw embryo farming. I would allow on a private basis the use of surplus embryos -- so-called surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization and, likewise, the existing lines. So from a -- I faced that in Massachusetts. In the bill there, I said I would continue to allow the use of surplus embryos from IVF.

In terms of funding, I think the best source of our funding applications should be in terms of what is known as alternative methods. And this just recently -- I've been, as you know, fighting for this for some time. This just recently saw a major breakthrough with direct reprogramming of human adult cells to become stem cells that could be pluripotent cells applied to cure disease and serious conditions. Now, interestingly, Hillary Clinton voted for these alternative method technologies when she was first faced with it. But then, as she became a presidential candidate, she was one of 28 to vote against alternative methods. She put politics ahead of people, and the source of great cures in this country is going to come from this alternative methods of creating stem cells without having to create new embryos, but instead focusing on taking adult stem cells, turning them into stem cells, just as we've seen with this great breakthrough by Asian and American scientists.

RUSSERT: But, to be clear, the embryos that are so-called surplus in in-vitro clinics are destroyed --

ROMNEY: Yes.

RUSSERT: -- for research, and you support that?

ROMNEY: I -- well, the term "support" is perhaps not the exact word I'd choose.

RUSSERT: You wouldn't outlaw it?

ROMNEY: I would not outlaw it, I would allow private laboratories and private institutes, as we currently do, and the president does as well, to use these so-called surplus or dis -- embryos that would be discarded.

Posted In
Elections, Environment & Science, Stem Cell Research
Stories/Interests
Mitt Romney, 2008 Elections
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