‘Snowflake’ baby stars op­po­site Obama in stem-cell drama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

“Hu­man em­bryo-de­stroy­ing stem-cell re­search is not only un­eth­i­cal, un­work­able and un­re­li­able, it is now demon­stra­bly un­nec­es­sary,” said Rep. Christo­pher H. Smith, 56, born in Rah­way, N.J.

“Dah dah dah, weeeeooot,” said Will Keat­ing, 3/4 of a year old, born, at first, as a two-cell em­bryo frozen in a test tube.

“[. . . ] in­duced pluripo­tent stem cells,” the con­gress­man said. “Aaaaei­i­iyaaaaa,” Will said, blow­ing a small spit bub­ble.

While Mr. Smith, co-chair­man of the Con­gres­sional Pro-Life Cau­cus, was the head­liner at a press con­fer­ence called on Mon­day to de­nounce the pres­i­dent’s new ex­ec­u­tive or­der al­low­ing fed­eral money to fund em­bry­onic stem-cell re­search, young Will stole the show.

The pudgy, red-headed boy is a “snowflake baby,” born from a cryo­geni­cally frozen em­bryo left over from in vitro fer­til­iza­tion but then trans­ferred to Cheri and Bill Keat­ing, of El­li­cott City, Md., via em­bryo adop­tion. Em­bryos are de­stroyed when stem cells are ex­tracted for re­search.

The event was de­cid­edly down­scale from the one held just hours be­fore at the White House. There, Pres­i­dent Obama read a care­fully crafted speech from a teleprompter, sur­rounded in the or­nate East Room by hun­dreds of ap­plaud­ing sup­port­ers and doc­tors who be­lieve ex­pand­ing re­search could lead to cure for ail- ments rang­ing from mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis to paral­y­sis.

Mr. Smith’s, how­ever, took place at the cor­ner of In­de­pen­dence and New Jer­sey av­enues on the con­crete Can­non House Of­fice Build­ing ter­race, where he bat­tled to hold his three-page state­ment in the 30-mile-hour gust­ing wind, which at one point sent an empty baby car­riage veer­ing crazily to­ward the podium.

“Mr. Obama is way be­hind the times. Mak­ing Amer­i­cans pay for em­bryo-de­stroy­ing stem-cell re­search is not change we can be­lieve in. Far from it. It is pol­i­tics!” the diminu­tive con­gress­man said, but the rest of his sen­tence was drown out, not by ap­plause but by a blast of wind.

Re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers, by a two-to-one mar­gin, out­num­bered the dozen or so of­fi­cials and “snowflake” par­ents and chil­dren. Note­books in hand, the re­porters strained to hear the New Jer­sey law­maker hold court on the com­pli­cated and con­fus­ing topic.

Stem cells, of­ten called pluripo­tent cells, can grow into any of the roughly 200 types of cells that make up the body’s tis­sues. Some doc­tors say cells taken by de­stroy­ing em­bryos, so-called totipo­tent cells, have a greater abil­ity to di­ver­sify into any type of cell and thus are prefer­able.

But em­bry­onic stem cells are highly un­pre­dictable, early re­search shows. For in­stance, Is­raeli doc­tors re­ported this month that ex­per­i­men­tal in­jec­tions of fe­tal stem cells into a boy suf­fer­ing from a lethal brain dis­ease trig­gered tu­mors in the boy’s brain and spinal cord.

As al­ter­na­tives to em­bry­onic stem cells, Mr. Smith listed ad­vance­ment af­ter ad­vance­ment us­ing adult and um­bil­i­cal-cord­blood stem cells, which doc­tors say are far less likely to morph into tu­mors or be re­jected by the pa­tient. Not­ing that doc­tors have turned hu­man skin cells into “what ap­pear to be em­bry­onic stem cells,” the law­maker said, “the mo­men­tum has de­ci­sively and ir­re­vo­ca­bly swung to non­con­tro­ver­sial stem-cell re­search.”

“Pa­tients with dis­eases, in­clud­ing leukemia, Type 1 di­a­betes, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, lu­pus, sickle-cell ane­mia and dozens of other mal­adies have sig­nif­i­cantly ben­e­fited from adult cell trans­fers,” he said.

“Aha!” Will said at pre­cisely this mo­ment, but he had been busy gnaw­ing on his fist, so he likely was not re­spond­ing to the ex­cit­ing med­i­cal ad­vance­ments in the field.

The press con­fer­ence’s prin­ci­pals also praised re­search into um­bil­i­cal-cord-blood stem cells. Taken shortly af­ter a baby is born, the blood of­fers pluripo­tent stem cells that have been proved med­i­cally ef­fec­tive.

Take Stephen Sprague, who iden­ti­fies him­self on his busi­ness card as “Cord Blood Cru­sader.” He re­ceived a cord-blood trans­fer in 1997 af­ter he was di­ag­nosed with leukemia, and he was cured of the dis­ease.

Or Cathy Pell. Her five-yearold daugh­ter, Abby, was born with brain dam­age, but the dam­age was re­duced by in­jec­tions of her own cord blood. “I de­scribe cord blood as liq­uid gold,” Mrs. Pell said. “In this econ­omy, you couldn’t buy it from me for a mil­lion dol­lars, so I hate to see fed­eral money go where they haven’t had suc­cess.”

Then Mrs. Keat­ing, hand­ing off young Will to her hus­band, spoke of her “snowflake” chil­dren.

“Our two youngest chil­dren, Mag­gie and Will, started their jour­ney to our fam­ily as frozen two-celled em­bryos. They were given their in­alien­able rights of life and had a chance to grow into ba­bies and, even­tu­ally, into the adult peo­ple they were in­tended to be­come,” she said.

Will, for once, didn’t say a thing. He just smiled a tooth­less smile.


I’m alive: Rep. Christo­pher H. Smith (cen­ter), New Jer­sey Repub­li­can, is flanked by Cheri and Bill Keat­ing of El­li­cott City, Md., and their two “snowflake” chil­dren, Mag­gie (left), 2, and Will, 9 months, on Capi­tol Hill on March 9.

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