Exclusive: Interview With Sam Brownback on Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 5, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Exclusive: Interview With Sam Brownback on Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
June 5
, 2007

LifeNews.com Note: The following is an exclusive interview LifeNews.com conducted with Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. He is a pro-life advocate who is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for president and we talked about the topic of stem cell research.

LifeNews.com: When Congress debates S. 5 this week in the House, members will again make wild claims about the miracle cures embryonic stem cell research has for patients. But we know it’s never come close to helping one person. Why do you think supporters of the bill continue to peddle these myths?

Sam Brownback: Well I certainly want cures. I think we all want cures. When you find a patient or a family in a difficult situation, they can be particularly vulnerable. Everybody wants to provide hope for those dealing with a sickness of this kind. Your heart goes out to them. I say, let’s fund the research that is getting the treatments, that is making progress. Let’s fight for research that we can be proud of and that everyone can live with.

LN: And there are alternatives that don’t require the destruction of human life and they seem to be making more progress in actually helping patients, are they not?

Brownback: Definitely and I have long supported alternatives to embryonic stem cell research. This is the area that is making progress and the area that I think we need to focus on. I am fully committed to supporting and funding adult stem cell, cord blood and amniotic fluid research. I think deriving stem cells from amniotic fluid could really be the next new source of a tremendous number of treatments and provide the hope we all seek. These are ethical cures, that don’t involve crossing that moral line of taking the life of the young human. They also appear to be less likely of developing tumors that we see again and again with embryonic stem cells.

LN: In April, when the Senate approved S5, it also approved a bill for alternative ways of obtaining embryonic stem cells without harming tiny human beings. This seemed to divide the pro-life community to some extent regarding whether these approaches could be successful. In your study of this aspect of the issue, how confident are you that scientists can obtain embryonic stem cells without destroying human life?

Brownback: I supported the Coleman/Isakson bill to fund these alternatives. The legislation was carefully crafted so as not to allow any research involving the destruction of human embryos. There are disputes in the pro-life community about the prospect of some other alternatives. I myself am wary of any procedure that could involve the taking of a young human life. I think we ought to err on the side of life and continue to fund the research that is getting treatments and provides hope for real patients today.

LN: We know that embryonic stem cell research has a myriad of practical problems for developing therapies such as immune system rejection issues or, as you mentioned, developing tumors when the cells are injected. It seems if we had the best interest of patients in mind we’d want to get those cures that don’t have these kinds of problems. Why do backers of the bill refuse to acknowledge these practical concerns?

Brownback: It’s hard to say. It seems to me that if you want cures and you want to treat patients you would fund the research where you are seeing treatments and are seeing patients healed.

LN: Such as adult stem cells…

Brownback: Yes, adult stem cell, cord blood, amniotic fluid, these are the places where we ought to be funding research. In fact, during the last stem cell debate in the Senate in April, it was reported that we received the seventy-third clinical human trial using adult or cord blood stem cells. And it was a big one, juvenile diabetes. The difficulty was that the researcher had to go to Brazil to do the research. Apparently there wasn’t enough funding or enough interest here in the United States.

We need to fund the research that is getting the treatments and that we won’t regret. Every time in human history that we have treated some as the property of others we have regretted it. We need research that will lift us up, help those who need the treatments and not cross that vital moral boundary.

LN: If Congress ever overrides the president and boosts embryonic funding, will funding for human cloning for reproductive or research purposes be their next target?

Brownback: It already is. We already see a good number of people supporting human cloning. I’ve been working for a number of years to enact a ban on human cloning. There’s been some resistance to doing that. It is certainly unfortunate that in the United States today we have not enacted a ban on human cloning. It is certainly a priority for me. We must not go down this path.

LN: Why should we oppose and ban human cloning?

It is absolutely wrong to create life simply to destroy it. Our society will be judged on how we treated the weak and vulnerable among us. We must not be involved in human cloning or research that destroys human life.

LN: Let me go back to the issue you raised earlier and raised when the Senate voted on S.5. You cited a study done by US and Brazilian researchers on adult stem cells helping people with diabetes. The disease lobby has spent millions trying to pass S5 and similar bills but wouldn’t spend one dime on this study. Why are these disease groups so out of touch right now?

Brownback: I honestly don’t know. It would seem to me that if you wanted cures and you wanted treatments you would push for funding where we are seeing treatments and seeing patients healed. More than that, we are seeing these treatments take place using ethical research. We do not have to treat persons as property. We shouldn’t do it and we don’t have to do it. Every person, including these young humans, are beautiful, precious, unique children of a loving God. That is true for all of them. We ought to fight for that and fight for them and not back down. I think it is essential that we get this right. It is so important for our culture and for our country’s future.

LN: What can be done to reverse that cultural problem of a lack of respect for life?

Brownback: We can stand for life. And for every life. I am pushing a pro-life – whole life philosophy. We must stand for the child in the womb and also the child in Darfur, for the person in poverty or the man suffering from AIDS.

We must communicate that we stand for every person, everywhere. We want to help people. We want the cures, but we know that the treatments are coming from the ethical research, not from the cloning, or the destructive research. We don’t want treatments that depend upon the taking of young human life, we want cures that everyone can live with.

LN: Some of your Republican colleagues who have been leading efforts for years to oppose abortion support embryonic stem cell research. What can pro-life people do to change their minds, if anything?

Brownback: I think we ought to ask people, what do you think we are dealing with here? For me, that is what it has always come down to: Are we dealing with a person or a piece of property? I’m a person, you’re a person, that desk is a piece of property.

The question is, what is the young human? If it is a person, then it is entitled the dignity and the respect and the protections of any human. If it is a piece of property then it can be used as the master sees fit.

Now we have gone this route before. We have treated some as the property of others. We know where that leads. We do not want to go down that path. We must stand for everybody, particularly the weak and the innocent. We want a culture where the strong protect the weak. That is a culture we can be proud of.

LN: Can you speak to the pro-life person who may be passionately against abortion but supports embryonic stem cell research?

Brownback: I would say that we have got to be pro-life for everybody. The embryo is a young human life. Biologically we know that. It is a living member of the human species. We should stand for that life and fight for that life. We should not research on it or destroy it.

Secondly, if you want cures and you want to help patients, the place we are seeing that done is in the adult stem cell, cord blood, and now the amniotic fluid stem cell research. This is place to focus on. It is ethically sound and will help real people, right now.

LN: Congress doesn’t have the two-thirds vote necessary in both chambers to override the president’s expected second veto and this highlights how important President Bush is to keeping Americans from having to fund this grisly practice. How important is it for pro-life Americans to get involved in the 2008 elections and ensure a pro-life president is elected again next year so we’re protected further?

Brownback: It is critical. It is an absolutely critical time for the pro-life movement. We need a president who is willing to lead on these issues, who will stand for life even when it may be difficult.

These are the basics. If you get these things right, you will have success as a nation. If you get them wrong, you will only have more problems.

I think people ought to get involved and get involved early on in helping to ensure that the real progress we have made in the cause for life is not lost. It is a crucial time and I really hope people get involved and stand firmly and consistently on the side of life.