Transcript: Stem Cell Debate on 'FNS'

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday" for May 22, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: The debate over stem cells takes on new urgency this week. With support from Republicans, the U.S. House may pass legislation that expands stem cell research funded by the government. But President Bush says he would veto that measure.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, there's been a big and controversial breakthrough in cloning human cells to find new cures. We want to revisit this topic from two distinct views.

First, families who are living with crippling diseases: Boomer Esiason is a former pro football player. He's now a broadcaster and head of a foundation that's raised over $40 million to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. His 14 year-old son, Gunner, suffers from that genetic disorder.

And, Mr. Esiason, welcome. Thanks for talking with us today.


WALLACE: First of all and most importantly, how's Gunner doing?

ESIASON: You know, Gunner's actually doing pretty good. He's an active young man. He's an 8th grader getting ready to go to high school. He plays Lacrosse, he plays ice hockey, and he plays golf. And we've come a long way in the last 25 years dealing with cystic fibrosis.

WALLACE: So far, what does the research indicate about how helpful stem cells might be in treating cystic fibrosis?

ESIASON: You know, well, we don't know. And, you know, my family's not only affected by cystic fibrosis, but I lost an aunt with Alzheimer's and also have an aunt with Parkinson's. So our family is definitely very hopeful that stem cell research can unlock the answers to these particular diseases.

You know, right now we're just treating the symptoms of the disease, trying to hold those symptoms down and giving Gunner and people like my aunts, you know, a healthy and full life.

Stem cell research is, you know, many people think in the scientific arena that there are answers there, that we might find a way to cure these diseases.

And while, in cystic fibrosis, there are only about 25,000 active patients in this country alone, when you put in all the orphan diseases together, you're talking about millions of people that will be affected by valiant scientists that are looking for these answers.

I am a pro-stem cell research advocate. I advocate down on Capitol Hill and also in state legislatures around the country, trying to get funding to hopefully unlock the answers for cystic fibrosis.

WALLACE: Let me ask you though.

As you well know, Mr. Bush is the first president to authorize funding for stem cell research. But he has insisted that there only be use of existing stem cell lines, not the use of embryos that are leftover in fertility clinics that would be thrown away. And he said this week that he would veto a House bill that would authorize federal funding for using those embryos that already exist.

Let's take a look at what the president had to say.


BUSH: The use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is — I'm against that.


WALLACE: How do you respond to that argument: that it's destroying life in order to save life?

ESIASON: Well, you know, I'm disappointed by that. And with what the South Koreans have come forth with this past week, it just goes to show you that whether or not we support it here in this country, other countries are going to after this. And whether it be in Singapore or South Korea or even in Britain, it's going to be done, whether we support it or not.

I still think that this is the greatest country on Earth. I think that we have the greatest scientists here. I think that they need our support, they need our funding via the government and also via private funding ways, as well.

So I am a little bit disappointed. There's no question about that.

My friend Christopher Reeve spent the better part of his last days of his life trying to get support out there. Because it's not just for cystic fibrosis. It also could be for spinal cord injuries, head injuries, as I said, Parkinson's. There are so many people that are on board with this. And that's why I think you see the support in Congress for this type of funding.

WALLACE: But how do you answer the question? As you well know, there are a lot of very well-meaning people, just as well-meaning as you are, who view the destruction of those embryos as a destruction of life. How do you, as someone who — I was going to say the parent, but also other members of your family who hopes that they will all benefit from stem cell research — how do you balance out science and legitimate moral concerns?

ESIASON: Well, when you are affected by a disease like we are, then certainly that's the balance that tilts you in favor of stem cell research.

I don't believe in human cloning. I'm not looking for Mini-me's to be running around with all of us.

But I do believe that if science has an answer to a disease like cystic fibrosis, then I'm going to support it, and I'm going to make sure that the scientists get the funds, and I'm going to make sure that I can lobby all those who are sympathetic to our cause to support those funds.

You have to understand, Chris — and I think if you talk to the Reagan family after watching what happened to President Reagan, they kind of understand now what we're dealing with out there on the streets.

So it's not a hard decision for us. I want to give my son the opportunity to grow up and be a father himself. There's nothing like it. And that's my ultimate goal, and I will do anything I possibly can to make sure that happens.

WALLACE: As you know, it's not just a scientific issue; it's not just a moral issue; it's also a political issue. And when you're talking now here about federal funding, isn't that legitimate, that it be a political issue?

ESIASON: I think so. It's a matter of priorities. And certainly in my life, the priority is, is to save my son and the thousands of children like him.

Unfortunately, there are people that are making decisions that may not have this type of effect in their own lives and that's unfortunate.

But the fact of the matter is is when do go down to Capitol Hill, I do find a lot of lawmakers that are very sympathetic to our cause and other causes simply like ours.

So I know that it's difficult for some people, but there's no gray area for us. We know it's all about saving lives and giving people a chance to live long, healthy and productive lives.

WALLACE: Mr. Esiason, we want to thank you so much for coming in today. And our very best to Gunnar.

ESIASON: Thank you very much, Chris. Thanks for having me.

WALLACE: For another side of this issue, we turn now to Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts, which is involved in its own debate about stem cell research. And he joins us from Boston.

Governor, welcome to "Fox News Sunday."

GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY, R-MA: Thank you, Chris. Good to be with you.

WALLACE: You are in the middle of this debate, not on one extreme or the other. And let's talk first of all about the fact that you support the idea of using these embryos that are left over in fertility clinics and that would otherwise simply be thrown away.

Now, you heard, as I'm sure Mr. Esiason did, the president says that's destroying life in order to save life.

ROMNEY: Well, I believe that stem cell research has enormous potential to help cure disease. We certainly have that deep hope, and I think every family, including Boomer Esiason's, will be touched by a crippling disease at one point or another.

And, therefore, we look with great longing for these cures to come from stem cell research. That's why the president supports it. I support it as well.

But I think every civilized society has to draw a line where it says you're crossing an ethical barrier. And if you cross that line, you cease from being the kind of society you've been in the past.

And that's something which the president has drawn in one place. I draw it in a very similar place.

I think we're looking for is to make sure that we can do the stem cell research that needs to be done and hopefully find cures but not taking ourselves into a place where we feel uncomfortable ethically.

And I certainly believe that in cases like South Korea, where they're beginning to do human embryo cloning, they have moved into an area that is unethical.

And the president spoke out against that, and I salute the president for that.

WALLACE: But if I may ask you, governor, specifically, you don't see, as I understand it, the use of these leftover embryos in fertility clinics as destroying life?

ROMNEY: That's right. I believe that when a couple gets together and decides that they want to bring a child into the Earth, and they go to a fertility clinic to do so, and if they're going to be through that process a leftover embryo or two, that they should be able to decide whether to preserve that embryo for future use or to destroy it; to have it put up for adoption or potentially to be used for research and experimentation, hopefully leading to the cure of disease.

And so for me, that's where the line is drawn. Those surplus embryos from fertility clinics can be used for research.

But when we say we're moving into embryo farming, creating new life solely to experiment upon it and then destroy it, I believe we've gone across a very, very bright ethical line.

And that's what's happening in South Korea, and here in Massachusetts, the legislature has authorized literally taking donated sperm, donated eggs, putting them together in petri dishes and growing embryos.

And that kind of embryo farming, whether it's done through those donations or through cloning, I think is ethically wrong.

WALLACE: What do you say to Boomer Esiason and to others who say, you're cutting off an avenue of research that might mean life or death for their loved one?

ROMNEY: Well, I feel very much like Boomer Esiason does.

Each of our families, my own included, is touched by very serious disease. My wife's brother actual gave a lobe of his lung to a child who had cystic fibrosis. He did it as a donation.

We care very deeply about these things, as a society and as a family.

At the same time, we recognize that a society has to draw boundaries of ethical conduct. And the respect of human life is one of the primary foundations of an ethical society. And so that's something we do.

I also believe, by the way, that science is entirely capable of carrying on stem cell research in an ethical manner.

ROMNEY: Professor Hurlbut at Stanford University and others are pursuing a number of different courses that allow one to create these embryo-like stem cells from embryo-like entities without actually creating human embryos.

So, there's a scientific pathway to accomplishing what lead to the cure of disease.

WALLACE: Governor, as we discussed with Boomer Esiason, this is also a political issue. You were thought to at least entertain thoughts about running for president in 2008.

As I say, you're kind of in the middle here, because you are against some research, but you're for other research.

Isn't your support for using these left-over embryos from fertility clinics, isn't that going to hurt you with some conservatives?

ROMNEY: You know, I think fundamentally people look at this issue on a very personal basis. My family's been touched by a very serious disease, as has Boomer Esiason's. I think at the same time we look at ethical issues, and say, "Where is the line to be drawn?"

For me and my family, it's very clear. If you're creating new life, simply to destroy it, you've gone across a bright red ethical boundary, and we shouldn't go there.

If, on the other hand, embryos are going to be destroyed following a fertilization process, that's something which shouldn't be done without the parent of that particular embryo being able to be brought into the decision. And if they want to give that embryo to science for the potential cure of disease, that that's a positive thing.

And I can't imagine politics or ambition for anyone would stand in the way with doing what they think is right for the family of humankind on an issue like this.

WALLACE: Governor Romney, it's a difficult issue. Thank you so much for coming in today and giving us your thoughts about it.

ROMNEY: Thank you.