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Stem Cell Legislation

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


STEM CELL LEGISLATION -- (Senate - July 28, 2005)

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, before leaving the floor, if I can have the attention of our minority leader. Is it the understanding of the leader in propounding this request that the measures proposed in the request had bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, and he believes as I believe--and I see my colleague, the Senator from Iowa, who is a great leader on this, who believes as well--that there is very strong bipartisan support for the legislation, and we could, in a reasonable period of time--really in a matter of hours--pass the legislation and still not exclude the possibility of continued debate and discussion on the other measures relating to stem cells; and that this would permit us to act before August 9, which would be the fourth year since we had the limitation and restriction on stem cell research, the kind of research that 80 Nobel laureates in a letter to President said offers the greatest opportunity for progress in the areas of Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes, cancer, and so many other diseases--do I understand the position of the Senator from Nevada is that he believes the progress taken in the House of Representatives in a bipartisan way should be given the opportunity for action in the Senate?

Mr. REID. I say through the Chair to my friend that I believe there is a significant majority in the Senate that would quickly support both of these bills. I say that without any hyperbole. I believe without question that a significant number would vote for this legislation.

Mr. KENNEDY. Is it the position of the Senator from Nevada that this is the same kind of research that, as I mentioned earlier, Nobel laureates indicate offers the greatest opportunity for progress in dealing with the kinds of illnesses and diseases that just about every family in America in one way or the other is affected by, and he believes, as I do, that this offers an enormous opportunity for hope and progress in conquering or curing these diseases?

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I have spoken with scientists, physicians, people who have diseases, and the families of those who have diseases, and there is a sparkle of hope and anticipation from the scientific community, from the people who are ill, and from their loved ones--a sparkle of hope and opportunity that I have never seen before. There is the hope that these children, for example, who are stuck with needles tens of thousands of times in their little lives will no longer have to have that done; the hope that someone who is beginning Parkinson's syndrome will be able to be cured. This is hope I have never seen before.

We need to go forward with this as quickly as possible. That is why for us in the Senate, a couple of months is not much. For those people who are sick and the loved ones of those people, it is an eternity. I can remember Steve Rigalio, an executive at Nevada Power, the largest power company in Nevada, who got sick with this disease. I personally watched this man. He had Lou Gehrig's disease. I personally watched this man deteriorate before my eyes. He was dead in a matter of months. The average life expectancy from the time the disease is diagnosed is 16 months. That is why the time we spend here is so important and why we must move forward.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that this time I have taken this morning be charged to leader time and not to morning business time.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I join my colleagues in expressing my deep sorrow and regret that the Republican leadership has allowed another month to go by without taking action on the bipartisan stem cell bill approved overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives.

Over the last several weeks, Republican leaders in the Senate have ignored the true priorities of the American people. They have denied the Senate the opportunity to provide our troops the protections they need against attack. They have denied the Senate the chance to guarantee funding for veterans' health, and to raise the minimum wage, and to allow importation of lower cost medicine from Canada and other nations.

And they have stalled and delayed, and twisted and turned, to deny action on legislation to unlock the healing potential of stem cell research.

They say there is no time for stem cells, or for the needs of our troops, or our veterans, or working families. There's plenty of time to protect the makers of lethal assault weapons--but no time for lifesaving cures.

The bill is right there, Mr. President, right there on that desk in front of you. At any time, the majority leader could walk over, pick it up and have a vote on a bill that would bring new hope to millions of Americans.

For years, patients and their families waited for a medical breakthrough to provide new hope for serious illnesses like Parkinson's disease, spinal injury, and Alzheimer's disease.

Then at last, dedicated scientists made that breakthrough. They discovered stem cells, which can repair the injuries that cause untold suffering and shorten lives.

The cruel irony is that just as medicine was giving patients new hope, the Bush administration snatched it away through needless restrictions on stem cell research,

In a few days, on August 9, patients across America will mark the fourth tragic anniversary of that cruel decision.

We in the United States Senate had the opportunity--no, we had the responsibility--to see that August 9 of this year did not mark 4 years of failure and 4 years of missed opportunity.

But the Republican leadership would not let us meet that responsibility. They let the first week of July slip by, and then the second, and now the last--all with no action on this urgently needed legislation.

Every day that we delay is another day of falling behind in the race to cure diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease, and many other serious illnesses.

It is another day for America to lose ground to Korea, Singapore, Britain, and other nations in the competition for global leadership in biotechnology.

Most of all, it is another day of shattered hopes for millions of patients and their families across America.

Some respond to the failure of the current policy by saying we should explore new ways to develop embryonic stem cells. I agree. Let's explore the potential of new discoveries in genetics and cell science to improve the ways we can tap the potential of stem cells. But let's not restrict essential research while scientists explore speculative and preliminary theories.

Some say we should encourage research on stem cells from the blood in umbilical cords or on adult stem cells from bone marrow and other tissues. Again, I agree. We should seek help for patients wherever it may be found. But it makes no sense to limit medical research to one narrow channel when the Nation's leading scientists agree that these alternatives have a more limited potential than embryonic stem cells. As a letter signed by 80 Nobel laureates in February 2001 stated:

Current evidence suggests that adult stem cells have markedly restricted differentiation potential. Therefore, for disorders that prove not to be treatable with adult stem cells, impeding human pluripotent stem cell research risks unnecessary delay for millions of patients who may die or endure needless suffering while the effectiveness of adult stem cells is evaluated.

The conclusion of an NIH report in June 2001 is clear:

Stem cells in adult tissues do not appear to have the same capacity to differentiate as do embryonic stem cells.

It would be cruel to base the hopes of millions of patients on an ideological conclusion that these experts are wrong. By all means, let's pursue vigorous research on adult stem cells, but let's not deceive the American public into thinking it's an adequate substitute for embryonic stem cell research.

Legislation should be an expression of our values, and our legislation says loud and clear that we value patients and their families--not rigid ideology.

It is a travesty that no action has been taken on this lifesaving measure.

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