Appearing as a guest on KNUS' Backbone Radio to discuss embryonic stem cell research with conservative John Andrews, former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes issued several false and misleading statements, such as “there are no ... benefits” from the research. Keyes also smeared Michael Schiavo for “doing his wife [Terri] to death through the courts so he could be free of the burden of her life.”
On the April 22 broadcast of KNUS 710 AM's Backbone Radio, former Republican presidential and U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes made several false assertions regarding embryonic stem cell research. Further, he smeared Michael Schiavo, husband of the late Terri Schiavo, as “a self-serving, self-interested husband” who purportedly "[did] his wife to death through the courts so that he could be free of the burden of her life once he had run through the money that he could derive from her condition." Keyes falsely asserted that “there are no ... benefits” from research on embryonic stem cells, and claimed that “anyone who has actually listened to the debate and cares about the facts would know that.” Finally, Keyes misleadingly asserted, “There have been over 70 breakthroughs using adult stem cells.”
In fact, in official statements on stem cell research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) repeatedly have disputed claims such as Keyes'. Colorado Media Matters also has noted the dubious nature of claims about the number of adult stem cell research “breakthroughs.”
Keyes made his statements in the context of a discussion on U.S. policy on stem cell research. As the Los Angeles Times reported (registration required) on March 20, last year President Bush vetoed legislation that would have removed restrictions on the availability of embryonic stem cell lines available for federally funded research, and similar legislation is under consideration in the current Congress. Backbone Radio host and former Republican Colorado Senate president John Andrews appeared to agree with Keyes' views, stating that many people's “emotions and sympathy get out ahead” of the fact that “we're talking about human lives here.”
ANDREWS: I think when you talk about cloning and embryonic and stem cell research, so many Americans' emotions and sympathy get out ahead of, of their rational recognition that we're talking about human lives here.
KEYES: Well, what I wonder about, though, is -- I know people say that, and I know that there are some people, perhaps, who could excuse themselves with ignorance and so forth that they're feeling sorry for folks who would benefit from research. But there are no such benefits. And anyone who has actually listened to the debate and cares about the facts would know that. So people are essentially choosing evil for no good reason. They claim they have good reason and that the anecdotes of people who -- but nobody's been helped by the destruction of embryos. Nobody. There hasn't been a single breakthrough --
ANDREWS: The breakthroughs, such as they are --
KEYES: -- that takes advantage of embryonic stem cell research. There have been over 70 breakthroughs using adult stem cells that don't require the destruction of human life. And there's also now major progress being made where you can take adult stem cells and actually reverse their clock so that they have the properties of embryonic stem cells without killing the embryo. So, in the face of scientific facts that suggest that there's a much more fruitful route to be taken that's consistent with morality, and that doesn't involve the destruction of life, some people are willfully choosing the evil path. And that's got to be very disturbing to us.
However, as the Times article noted, in March 19 testimony before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni disputed such claims about adult stem cell research:
Studies claiming that adult stem cells have as much potential as embryonic stem cells “do not hold scientific water,” Zerhouni said Monday.
“I think they are overstated,” he said. “We do not know at this point where the breakthrough will come from ... All angles in stem cell research should be pursued.”
In January 19 testimony before the same Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Story C. Landis, director of NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, described some of the research potential specific to embryonic stem cells:
Stem cells have many other potential uses. Studies of human embryonic stem cells, for example, yield information about the complex events that occur during the initial stages of human development. A primary goal of this research is to identify the molecular mechanisms that allow undifferentiated stem cells to differentiate into one of the several hundred different cell types that make up the human body. Scientists know that turning genes on and off is central to this process. A significant challenge for stem cell research is that scientists do not yet fully understand the signals that turn specific genes on and off to influence the differentiation of the stem cell into a specialized cell with a specific function, like a nerve cell. This knowledge not only offers the opportunity to learn how to control stem cells from both embryonic and non-embryonic sources, but also to better understand the cause of a number of serious diseases, including those that affect infants and children, which in turn could lead to new and more effective intervention strategies and treatments.
Keyes' assertion that there have been “over 70 breakthroughs using adult stem cells” echoed a claim advanced by David A. Prentice of the conservative Family Research Council that 70 conditions or illnesses are being treated with adult stem cell therapies. As Colorado Media Matters noted, researchers Shane Smith, William Neaves, and Steven Teitelbaum refuted the claim in a letter to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for publication in the association's magazine, Science. The three found that FDA-approved adult stem cell treatments are available for only nine conditions.
Furthermore, in a review of the references Prentice used in support of his claim, Smith, Neaves, and Teitelbaum wrote, “Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites.” The letter was posted on the AAAS website Science Express , which publishes “selected research papers, Perspectives, and other articles that have recently been accepted for publication in Science.”
Neaves and his colleagues cited several examples of diseases or conditions for which they said Prentice misrepresented the effectiveness of adult stem cell therapies. They wrote: “The reference Prentice cites for testicular cancer on his list does not report patient response to adult stem cell therapy; it simply evaluates different methods of adult stem cell isolation.” Similarly, “The reference Prentice cites on non-Hodgkin's lymphoma does not assess the treatment value of adult stem cell transplantation; rather, it describes culture conditions for the laboratory growth of stem cells from lymphoma patients.”
During the Backbone Radio interview, Keyes also smeared Michael Schiavo for his successful advocacy for the removal of life support for his wife, Terri, who had existed in a persistent vegetative state since 1990 and died in March 2005:
ANDREWS: It -- it disturbs me, because there is almost a, a, as the pope has called it, a culture of death. And a, an affirmative desire on the part of the abortion lobby in this country to slap down any slightest restriction --
ANDREWS: -- on the ability to, to manipulate the lives of others, to treat human beings not as ends in ourselves or objects of ultimate dignity -- irreducible dignity -- but simply as a means to someone else's end.
KEYES: Well, I think that we saw this especially a couple years ago -- we just passed the anniversary of, of -- of her death -- with Terri Schiavo. Where you had some of the organizations like National Organization of Women -- who always claim that they're against spousal abuse and want to protect the interests of women -- forgot all about that. As we watched a spectacle of a self-serving, self-interested husband doing his wife to death through the courts so that he could be free of the burden of her life once he had run through the money that he could derive from her condition. It was really quite sick and disgusting.
As Colorado Media Matters noted, Terri Schiavo was put on life support in 1990 after collapsing from an undetermined cause, which caused irreversible brain damage and left her in a permanent vegetative state, according to her doctors. Michael Schiavo and his wife's parents were engaged in a bitter and widely publicized battle over continuing her life support. Terri Schiavo died March 31, 2005, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. In a June 16, 2005, article (accessed through the Nexis database) about Terri Schiavo's autopsy report, the Times noted that "[d]uring Terri Schiavo's final days, when her fervent supporters said she was alert, responsive and trying to speak, she was massively and irreversibly brain-damaged, blind and oblivious to what surrounded her." The Times further reported that "[i]ndependent medical specialists" said the autopsy report was “in line with the prevailing consensus among neurologists that Schiavo had fallen into a persistent vegetative state brought on by lack of oxygen, causing brain cells to die.”
In 1992 Michael Schiavo won a $1 million medical malpractice settlement stemming from the medical care that Terri Schiavo received after her collapse. A March 25, 2005, USA Today article (accessed through Nexis) reported that "[b]y February 1993, Schiavo had the money from the lawsuit." According to a timeline in the March 27, 2005, issue of Time magazine, it was not until 1994 that Schiavo consulted with doctors and “conclude[d] that his wife [would] not recover” and then “authorize[d] a do-not-resuscitate order in case of a heart attack.” Moreover, Michael Schiavo did not file a court petition to actually remove his wife's life support until 1998, five years after he had received the settlement money.
In March 2005, Michael Schiavo also turned down a $1 million offer from San Diego businessman Robert Herring to turn over legal guardianship of Terri Schiavo to her parents. Michael Schiavo's lawyer called the offer “offensive” and said that a number of similar offers had been made to Michael Schiavo, who rejected them all because "[t]here is no amount of money anyone can offer that will cause him to turn his back on his wife."