Sen. Hatch Backs Expansion of Stem-Cell Funding

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) supports legislation that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The same legislation was vetoed last year by President Bush. Hatch speaks with Madeleine Brand.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now to the prospects for new stem cell funding at the federal level. I spoke earlier with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah. He supports legislation that would expand federal financing for embryonic stem cell research. It's the same legislation that was vetoed by President Bush last year.

Well, you have been a staunch supporter for many years now of stem cell research, and why is that?

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): Well, I believe it's the most important biomedical research in perhaps the history of the world. And an awful lot of scientists believe that as well.

BRAND: Now, you are also known as a pro-life senator. So does that make sense to be a pro-life senator, also a pro-embryonic stem cell research senator? A lot of people who are anti-abortion are anti-embryonic stem cell research.

Sen. HATCH: I think it's the ultimate pro-life position, because I believe being pro-life is not just caring for the unborn but caring for those who are living. Now, we are moving forward on all other forms of stem cell research, adult stem cell research, cord blood research. Now we're looking at amniotic stem cell research.

But according to most scientists that I talked to - in fact all of them that I I've talked to - embryonic stem cells holds out the greatest promise of being able to find treatments and/or cures for some of life's worst diseases.

BRAND: So you don't see these embryos as potential human life snowflakes, as the president calls them.

Sen. HATCH: Well, they are human cells. There's no question about that. But I do not consider them babies until - they at least have to be planted in the womb to even have a chance to becoming a human being. There are very sincere people on the side who believe that any embryonic stem cell basically is a potential human being. I have to admit it's a human cell, a human living cell, but so are adult stem cells.

I was asking this question. How can you justify casting aside 7,000 to 20,000 in vitro fertilized eggs a year as hospital waste and not utilize those to help these kids that have virulent diabetes, who are going to lose their eyes, their fingers, their hands, their legs?

BRAND: Have you posed those questions to President Bush?

Sen. HATCH: Uh-huh. I have. I have to say that I think President Bush is, you know, he's the first president who ever did anything about stem cell research and the first one to ever do anything about embryonic stem cell research. You know, he thought that there were some 78 or more embryonic stem cell lines that could be utilized because they were already in existence and he allowed NIH to pursue those. I have to say, the Clinton administration knew about embryonic stem cells; they didn't do anything about it.

BRAND: But the president vetoed your legislation last year and -

Sen. HATCH: Well, he did. But the fact of the matter is - that's why I say - I think he has had some pretty bad advice. I know his heart's good. I know he wants to help people.

BRAND: Now, you're going to take up essentially the same bill that was vetoed last year with essentially very few changes. I'm just wondering, since it was vetoed last year and you don't have a veto-proof margin still in the Senate, why not try a different strategy, a different piece of legislation?

Sen. HATCH: Well, we are working on another pieces of legislation, but keep in mind, last year we didn't have a chance in the Senate of a veto override. This time we do. Now, in the House it may be more problematic and a little more difficult to override the veto. But that doesn't stop you from doing what you believe is right.

BRAND: I'm just wondering, Senator, if you have a personal stake in this, if you know someone who has one of these diseases?

Sen. HATCH: No, I really don't, although - I know lots of people who have some of these diseases. I think one of the most influential matters early in this study that I was doing was a young boy, three years old. His parents brought him in. He was a beautiful young boy. And he just looked like the epitome of health, but you can imagine their shock when they found that he had the same virulent diabetes that his grandfather had just died from at the age of 47 years old. You can imagine the pain in their eyes. And I have to say that I think anybody who would see that and then reject the hope that embryonic stem cell research holds out to a little boy like that, I think would be a pretty hard-hearted person, between you and me.

BRAND: Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah. Thanks for joining us.

Sen. HATCH: Oh, nice to be with you.

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