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Remarks by Senator John Kerry Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

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Location: Lebanon, NH


October  13,  2003
Lebanon, NH -

On a cold winter's day in January of 1896, fourteen year old Eddie McCarthy went ice skating on the frozen Connecticut River.  As he raced around, he slipped and fell and broke his arm.  He came to the then-new Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital.  Dr. Gilman Frost did his best to treat his young patient but, of course, had no way of knowing where the break had occurred.

But a few days later, he read of a German scientist's discovery of X-rays and he had an idea.  He brought young Eddie over to the physics lab and there - on February 3, 1896 - Eddie McCarthy entered the annals of medical history as the first person in America to be given a medical X-ray.  It took 20 minutes and revealed Eddie had a broken wrist.

Excited by his idea, Dr. Frost wrote the next day that, quote, "Comment upon the numerous applications of the new method in the sciences and arts would be superfluous."  That same year, cancer patients were treated with radiation for the first time.  And this year, here at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center, new 3-D radiation therapies are being used to target and attack difficult and dangerous tumors such as prostate and lung cancer. 

But these developments might not have been possible if some in 1896 had had their way.  In that Victorian age, many feared x-rays would be used for illicit purposes and that no woman walking down the street would be secure in her modesty.  Some state legislatures even introduced legislation to curtail the use of x-rays - especially in opera glasses in theaters.

It's a funny story - but it carries an important lesson.  America has always been a land of discovery - of distant horizons and unconquered frontiers.  But every advance has brought with it ethical dilemmas and fears that this time we have gone too far.   Part of this nation's greatness lies in the fact that - with fits and starts - we have moved forward as a people - with our breakthroughs and our beliefs going hand-in-hand. 

Americans have always wondered about the world over the next hill and around the next bend.  We have been a questing, seeking people.  The names ring out over the generations.  Morse, Bell, Edison, Goddard, Fleming, Farnsworth, Salk, Varmus, Berners-Lee.  And 100 years ago this December, the two bicycle mechanics from Dayton who took flight at Kitty Hawk - Orville and Wilbur Wright. 

But with our thirst for discovery, there have always been the few with a distaste for progress and a fundamental distrust of the American people to have the morality and strength to handle the consequences. 

Unfortunately, today some of that deep distrust of new discoveries and of the American people has found a home in George Bush's White House.  George Bush has proved a ready ally for those who seek to impose their private moral vision on the American people.  Over and over again, this President has put partisan politics above scientific and medical advancement.  Whether it is global warming or stem cell research, President Bush has appeased his party's right wing by ignoring scientific fact and slowing medical progress.

Never before in our history has there been an Administration with this recessive strain of pessimism about progress and people.  Past Presidents - Democrat and Republican alike - have looked toward the future and new discoveries with hope, not fear.  Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark out to explore an uncharted continent.  Franklin Roosevelt built great national laboratories.  John Kennedy set our sights to the moon and Bill Clinton helped lead us to a map of the human genome.  At the same time, it was Republican Abraham Lincoln who created the National Academy of Sciences.  Republican William McKinley helped bring about the precursor to today's National Institutes of Science and Technology.  And Republican Dwight Eisenhower established the post of White House Science Advisor and greatly expanded science education in our schools.

But this President entered the White House with a different outlook and a different agenda.  His Administration sought to bury a report on climate change and has had White House political appointees edit out uncomfortable information from official EPA documents. 

And this Administration has sought to stack scientific advisory committees that make important decisions and guide critical research with right-wing ideologues.  David Hager has prescribed prayer to women to reduce the symptoms of PMS.  On Christmas Eve 2002, when no one was paying attention, President Bush appointed Dr. Hager to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Commission. On the other hand, William Miller, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, was considered as a candidate for a panel on the National Institute of Drug Abuse.  In the interview, he was asked his views on abortion, the death penalty, and whether he had voted for George Bush. He answered no to the last question - and he never heard back.

Nothing illustrates this Administration's anti-science attitude better than George Bush's cynical decision to limit research on embryonic stem cells.  These tiny cells are thought to be the missing link needed to find treatments and cures for Parkinson's disease, cancers, Alzheimers, diabetes, Lou Gehrig's disease, and spinal cord injuries. 

As many as 100 million Americans now living could eventually benefit from the discoveries possible in these stem cells.  But faced with a basic decision on America's health, George Bush chose to go to the right wing instead of the right way.
In a televised address, he announced to the nation that he would stop any new research on new lines of stem cells, but he proclaimed he would allow research to go forward on the 60 existing lines of stem cells. 

The fact of the matter is that there weren't 60 usable lines of stem cells in existence - and his Administration knew it.  The National Institutes of Health had reported to the White House that there were about 30 lines in existence.  The number didn't sound high enough so the scientists were sent to go find a higher one.  A week before the speech they reported back that there might be about 60 lines scattered throughout the world in unknown places and unknown conditions of usefulness.  President Bush went with the number - shading the truth and misleading the public.  It turns out that there are really only 11 lines on the NIH stem cell registry that are available to researchers and that these lines are not diverse enough to meet research needs.

It was wrong enough for George Bush to mislead America about Iraq's search for uranium in Africa.  But to mislead the country about Americans' search for hope for their loved ones is beyond the pale.  Whether it is on weapons of mass destruction or tools for curing disease, America needs a President that will tell them the truth - especially when lives are on the line.

And America needs a President who will lead us to a new era of scientific and medical breakthroughs, who will help break down the barriers to discovery so that Americans can live longer, happier, and healthier lives.

This isn't an abstract issue for me.  As many of you know, earlier this year I underwent surgery for prostate cancer.  I was
cured - because as a Senator, I was lucky to have some of the best medical care in the world.  Millions of Americans are not
so lucky - and I'm going to change that.  As President, I'll make health care affordable for every American. 

Sometimes cancer treatment has unfortunate side effects.  But for me there has been a happy one.  Everywhere I go, here in New Hampshire and across America, people come up to me and tell me about their fights and their family's fights with illness.  They speak honestly and directly - in ways people sometimes won't with politicians - because they know that I know where they're coming from.

Americans are struggling to deal with the real life impacts of cancer and heart disease and diabetes and disabilities.  But every week they hear about a new medical advancement that brings the promise of health and a feeling of hope.  Just last week, we heard of a new drug that cut the risk of a breast cancer relapse in half.  We need a President who will be speeding medical discovery - not slowing it down.

As President, I will end George Bush's block on stem cell research - which even Nancy Reagan and Orrin Hatch oppose.  And while I oppose reproductive cloning, I will support research in therapies that allow an individual's own cells to treat or cure that person's disease.  We also need to better fund cutting edge stem cell research.  This year the National Cancer Institute isn't spending a single dollar on stem cell research - despite all its promise.  With Alzheimer's and diabetes on the rise - with 40 percent of Americans likely to get cancer in our lifetimes - we need to be pushing the boundaries of research, not letting partisan politics hold us back.

As President, I will increase our funding to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other important agencies and initiatives that promote crucial research.  In just the last year, the National Institutes of Health unveiled a new approach that shrinks tumors in patients with melanoma, eye drops that treat and delay glaucoma, and a new method of detecting ovarian cancer.  We need to provide the resources that produce discoveries.

And that funding will also help ensure that medical innovations and breakthroughs benefit everyone, not just a few.  New resources mean potential new cures and treatments are quickly moved into clinical trials and then into common practice. 

And that can make all the difference.  Shortly after Betsy Duany from Plainfield was married, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26.  She and her husband, Patrick, were devastated.  And even when her physician offered a treatment, it would have left her unable to bear children.  This was something Betsy and Patrick just weren't willing to accept.  After some research by both Betsy and her doctor, Betsy was enrolled in a clinical trial that offered treatment for her breast cancer, but would not affect her ability to have children.  Today, Betsy is alive and well and she and Patrick are the proud parents of 3 year old Allison and 10 month old Andrew.

We need to ensure that all Americans have the most cutting edge treatment available.  Unfortunately, many managed care organizations won't pay costs associated with investigational treatments, leaving patients unable to participate in clinical trials and denied the benefits of new therapies and treatment options. Without more Americans able to participate in clinical trials, our health care system - and patients - will suffer because we won't be able to make the strides necessary to cure or prevent diseases.

In America, health care should be a right - not a privilege - and I will wake up every morning and go to the Oval Office determined to make affordable health care for all the law of the land.

The best medical breakthrough doesn't mean much if it doesn't get to the patient's who need it.  Dartmouth-Hitchcock has led the way in showing the impact of uneven health care on costs and patients' lives.  We need a President who will lead the way in meeting this challenge.  A recent review of 18,000 medical charts found only 55 percent of people received the most up-to-date care. For example, if a person receives betablockers following a heart attack, they have a 40 percent less chance of dying from a second heart attack. However, 40 percent of patients don't get this treatment. We need a more even playing field when it comes to Americans' health.

As President, I'm going to promote 21st century technology to help doctors and nurses get the information they need from the 23,000 articles that come out on health care each year.  And I'm going to empower patients with the information they need to make choices and decisions on treatments and doctors.  I'll make sure we transition to computerized medical records and I'll recruit and train more nurses to raise the quality of care.

And if we want Americans to trust our medical progress, we have to ensure their basic privacy.  The most common reason women give to not take the genetic test for breast cancer is that they fear the information will be used against them. We need strong privacy protections that prevent insurance companies and employers from using genetic information to discriminate against Americans. It is a civil rights challenge for the 21st century - and we need to meet it.

This year, Louise Brown celebrated her 25th birthday.  The name may not mean much to us today, but in 1978 the birth of Baby Louise - the first test-tube baby - was met with hope by many and fear from a few.  Twenty-five year later, the many were right.  Since then, the half a million children born through invitro-fertilization are living happily and bringing joy to their families.  Those that feared the loss of our humanity have been shown again that there is more to our souls than we understand and that progress does not have to mean the loss of our values.

It is a lesson that the doctors here at Dartmouth-Hitchcock understand.  That Americans know.  That this Administration has forgotten.  And that I will bring back to the Oval Office.  Our science and our spirit should build on each other - not be held in conflict. 

Medical progress doesn't have to mean a slippery slope where our first step inevitably leads to a slide into decadence.  Rather medical discoveries are part of humanity's uphill climb - where the hard work of discovery and democracy go hand-in-hand.  Where decisions on science's ethical dilemma's are not just handed down from the White House or the House of Representatives, but wrestled with in houses of prayer and places of science.

If we trust in the promise of new discoveries - and trust in the power of Americans to use them wisely - we will not go astray.  But we cannot stand still.  There are diseases to conquer, barriers to break, and horizons to cross.  And as long as these challenges are there, America is moving forward. And we deserve a President who knows it.  Thank you.

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