FETUS FARMING PROHIBITION ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - July 17, 2006)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I join my friend and colleague from North Dakota in giving special recognition to Mrs. Reagan on this issue. As someone who has been interested in this issue for some time, as many of my colleagues have, I think all of us pay tribute to her, to a very gracious, lovely, wonderful, warm First Lady and someone I admire so much because after she has been to the top of the mountain, so to speak, and entitled to a very secure and well-deserved retirement, she is still restless about this issue and tireless about talking with people and speaking about this issue with great knowledge, great awareness, great understanding, and great compassion. I mention that at this time. I think we all know this debate has moved farther down the road toward a hopeful conclusion because of her work.
Today, the Senate begins the debate on legislation unlike any other we have considered this year. Today's debate is not about economic gain or loss or helping one State or one region of the country. Today's debate is about something far more basic, something that touches the spirit of every American. Today's debate is about hope.
Hope is one of those qualities of spirit that makes us human. Hope allows us to dream of a better life for our children, our community, our world, and especially for loved
ones now suffering or in pain. Hope is what stem cell research holds for the parents of children with diabetes who dream of a day when their constant fears for their children's well-being are things of the past. Hope is what stem cell research brings to those with Parkinson's disease who long for a time when the tremors of that disease are banished forever. Hope is what stem cell research brings to millions of Americans who seek better treatments and better drugs for cancer or diabetes, spinal injury, and many other serious conditions. And hope cannot be extinguished or destroyed, but it can be delayed.
In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs tells us:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
And today hearts are sick almost to the breaking point because, for the last 5 years, the Bush administration has shut down the stem cell research program begun at the National Institutes of Health and imposed the arbitrary restrictions on this lifesaving research.
Hope soared anew a year ago when the House of Representatives set aside partisan differences and courageously approved legislation to end those restrictions and to give our scientists the tools they need to make the progress in the fight against disease. The vote in the House affirmed that embryonic stem cells can promote a true culture of life by enabling fuller, longer lives for millions of our citizens. The House voted for hope, for progress, and for life.
The supporters of this legislation in the Senate come from backgrounds as diverse as its proponents in the House. All of the supporters of H.R. 810, with our different backgrounds and different faiths, representing different parts of this country, have concluded that support of this legislation is the moral choice to make.
The legislation before us takes only two actions, but they hold the key to medical progress.
First, our legislation overturns the restrictions on the embryonic stem cell research imposed by Presidential order 5 years ago. That unilateral action by the administration bypassed Congress and froze progress in its tracks by barring the NIH from funding research on stem cells derived after 9 p.m. eastern daylight time, August 9, 2001--an arbitrary date and time chosen solely to coincide with a Presidential speech.
At the time the President's order was issued, it was claimed that over 60 independent stem cell colonies, or lines, would be available to NIH researchers. Initially, the NIH listed 78 such lines in its registry, but time and the unalterable facts of science have shown that two-thirds of these lines are useless or that claims about them proved to be an illusion.
Today, only 21 stem cell lines are available to NIH researchers, and all of these were obtained using out-of-date methods and outmoded techniques. Each of these 21 lines is contaminated with animal tissue because each was cultured on a so-called feeder layer of mouse cells. Techniques developed since 2001 have allowed scientists to grow stem cells without mouse cells, but these are all off limits to NIH-funded scientists because of the administration's restrictive policy.
Even if the 21 lines were not contaminated with mouse cells, they would still be unusable for treatments. The reason is that the use of every one of these cells is constrained by a legal contract called a material transfer agreement, and each of these documents contains a clause forbidding the use of the cells in patients.
Let me be clear. If the cells in the NIH registry weren't already useless for treatment because they are contaminated, they would be useless because the contract under which they are provided forbids their use in patients.
Five years ago, we warned that imposing an arbitrary date restriction on new stem cell lines would freeze progress by denying NIH researchers access to new lines that might hold the key to medical breakthroughs, and these fears have proven well-founded.
Since the restrictions were imposed, scientists working overseas or with limited private funds have developed new lines with exceptional promise for research. For example, Dr. Douglas Melton at Harvard has derived 17 new stem cell lines with improved techniques. Scientists at the University of California have shown that stem cells can be derived without contamination from animal cells. And doctors in Israel have developed stem cell lines that have genetic traits with the potential of treating hereditary diseases, such as muscular dystrophy. These astonishing breakthroughs could lead to new cures and new understanding of these disorders, but the administration's restrictions bar NIH from supporting research to explore their promise. To unlock the healing power of stem cell research, the first action our legislation takes is to end the ban that keeps NIH from supporting research on new stem cell lines.
But science without ethics is like a ship without a compass. Strong ethical guidelines are needed to ensure that scientific progress follows the moral course that we as a society set. For this reason, the second major action our legislation takes is to establish ethical safeguards for stem cell research. And once again allowing NIH to lead stem cell research, we bring more research under the strong ethical standards that are part of every NIH grant for any kind of medical research. The bedrock principles of these standards are informed consent of the patient and approval of an ethics committee.
In addition, when it comes to stem cell research, our legislation requires NIH to go beyond these general requirements and requires NIH to issue specific standards for stem cell research. Before the NIH stem cell research program was terminated in the early days of the Bush administration, it had developed an extensive and robust ethical framework for the research. These requirements include an extra level of review to assure that all research was conducted according to special protections applicable to stem cell research. They limit research only to cells derived from embryos from fertility clinics that were never to be used to initiate a pregnancy and were likely to be discarded.
They prohibit payment for donation of cells. They forbid improper inducements to donate embryos to further ensure that all cells used for research must come from embryos that would not be used to initiate a pregnancy.
I want to take a moment to discuss this last point in detail. Even with the intense debate on stem cells over the last 5 years, there remains some confusion about the source of stem cells. The cells are not derived from fetuses, they are not from embryos that might otherwise have been used to start a pregnancy.
Our legislation explicitly requires the stem cells to be derived:
From human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purpose of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
Those are the words, Mr. President.
In fertility clinics around the country, there are thousands of embryos that are simply thrown away. Hundreds of thousands more are frozen and never used. They are not the result of a pregnancy; they are not the product of an abortion or a miscarriage. The only way they can produce life is to be implanted in a woman, and these embryos we propose to save for research have not been and will not be. We believe it is better to save embryos that would otherwise be destroyed so they can give the gift of life to patients who are suffering. Life is too precious to allow an opportunity to cure illness to be simply thrown away.
Some say this debate is only about science, and that it is not a moral choice. I disagree. A vote on this bill involves a deeply moral choice. It is a choice between making progress toward better treatment for patients or spurning a chance for new cures. There are deeply moral people on both sides of this debate, but I am convinced that medical progress is the right one.
We have faced similar choices many times in the past. In the 1970s, Congress was considering whether to ban research on recombinant DNA--the very foundation of biotechnology. Then, as now, some raised ethical concerns or dismissed the promise of this research as a pipedream, and urged Congress to forbid it. In the 1980s, Congress made the right choice by rejecting attempts to outlaw IVF, a technique that has fulfilled the hopes and dreams of thousands of parents who never would have been able to have a child otherwise.
Other forms of medical progress brought similar controversy: transplantation, blood transfusion, even vaccines. All of these breakthroughs were once new and controversial, with strong voices raised against them. All were discussed and debated and eventually adopted in ways that are consistent with American values. Each time we looked to the future and saw the potential of controversial research, we chose progress, and the benefits have been immense.
We should make the same choice on stem cell research. We should not allow the misplaced fears of today to deny patients the cures of tomorrow.
Some argue that we should support research on adult stem cells, or stem cells from umbilical cords, or stem cells derived from using new genetic techniques. I agree. We should leave no stone unturned in the search for new cures. Perhaps some cures will come from one technique and other breakthroughs from another. Let's encourage our scientists to explore every avenue that is ethical and could lead to progress. But there is no sense in closing the door on one of the most promising areas of medical research discovered in decades, while we wait for other, less hopeful methods to show success or failure. That is not my assessment; it is the judgment of every major scientific leader in America.
According to a letter by 80 Nobel laureates:
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 Institute of Medicine was just as clear on the need for embryonic stem cell research:
Embryonic stem cells studied in animals clearly are capable of developing into multiple tissues and capable of long-term self-renewal in culture, features that have not yet been demonstrated with many adult stem cells.
In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the Director of the NIH, said:
It is clear that more cell lines would be helpful in ensuring expeditious progress in this important field of science.
His conclusions were echoed by other NIH Institute Directors such as Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, head of the NIH Institute on Heart, Lung and Blood Disorders, who said:
The limitations of existing cell lines are hindering scientific progress among a community that is very eager to move forward in this promising area.
The judgment of the Nation's scientific leaders could not be clearer or more emphatic: Yes, we should study adult stem cells, but we should let science decide which approach works best for patients.
But in the end, this debate is not about abstract principles or complex terms of science. It is about people who look with hope to stem cell research to help them with the challenges they face.
Two years ago, I held a forum in Boston on the promise of stem cell research. One of the participants was Moira McCarthy Stanford from Plymouth, MA, whose 14-year-old daughter Lauren has juvenile diabetes. I wish to end my remarks today with a letter that Lauren wrote to me. It explains far more eloquently than any Senator could the urgent need to pass this legislation. These are Lauren's words:
For as long as I can remember, I have had to take a lot of leaps of faith. I have had to believe my parents when they told me taking four or five shots a day and pricking my finger eight or more times a day was just a new kind of normal. I had to--
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
Mr. KENNEDY. I thank the Presiding Officer.
I had to just smile and say I'm fine when a high blood sugar or a low blood sugar forced me to the sidelines in a big soccer game, or into the base lodge on a perfect ski day, or out at the pool during a swim meet.
But when I watched, with my parents, President Bush's decision on stem cell research in the summer of 2001, I just could not accept it. You see, the one thing that has helped me accept all I have had to accept these years is the presence of hope. Hope keeps me going.
That night, President Bush talked about protecting the innocent. I wondered then: What about me? I am truly innocent in this situation. I did nothing to bring my diabetes on. There is nothing I can do to make it any better. All I can do is hope for a research breakthrough and keep living the difficult, demanding life of a child with diabetes until the breakthrough comes. How, I ask my parents, is it more important to throw discarded embryos into the trash than it is to let them be used to hopefully save my life.
I am so happy to hear that the Senate is thinking of passing H.R. 810. I can dream again--dream of that great day when I write a thank you letter to the Senate, to the House, and everyone who helped me become just another girl; a girl who dreamed and hoped and one day, got just what she wanted: her health and her future. That's all I'm really asking for.
Those are Lauren's words, and they command us to act. Tomorrow, we must cast a vote of conscience and of courage. We must reaffirm that our common value of bringing hope to those who need it outweighs any single ideology. We must approve the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, and we must call upon the President of the United States not to veto hope.
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