Issue Position: Stem Cells
Many people have contacted me to express their views regarding three bills that the Senate voted on in July regarding stem cell research. As there are strong feelings on both sides of the stem cell research debate, I think it is important for me to explain my views.
The Senate operates under a process called "Unanimous Consent" under which all Senators must give their consent for any particular action, including scheduling time for votes on the Senate floor. Under the Unanimous Consent agreement that was reached on stem cell legislation, there were twelve hours of debate on each of the three bills. No amendments to the bills were offered, and each bill will required 60 votes to pass.
The most divisive of the three bills considered was H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This bill would permit the Secretary of Health and Human Services to support research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells, provided the embryos were: (1) donated from in vitro fertilization clinics; (2) created for the purposes of fertility treatment; (3) in excess of the needs of the individuals seeking such treatment and would otherwise be discarded; and (4) donated by individuals with written informed consent and without any financial or other inducements. I voted for this legislation. H.R. 810 passed both the Senate and the House and was sent to the President for his signature. The President, however, vetoed this legislation.
S. 3504, the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006, would prohibit fetuses from being grown for research purposes. S. 2754, the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to find ways to derive human pluripotent stem cell lines using techniques that would not harm embryos. I voted for both of these bills as well. While S. 2754 did not pass the House, S. 3504 did pass the House and the President signed this bill into law on July 19th, 2006.
I recently met with doctors and researchers from Johns Hopkins University, one of the top medical research hospitals in the country, to better understand the status of the current stem cell research, as well as to understand how federal policies can promote or hinder such research.
Research on adult stem cells is already being used to safely and effectively treat more than 60 conditions and, most recently, scientists reported new evidence of the effectiveness of treating congestive heart failure with these cells. To date, umbilical cord blood stem cell transplantation has been used successfully to treat blood-related diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Some scientists believe, however, that the potential for these cells is limited.
The potential for embryonic stem cell research is even greater than that of adult or umbilical cord blood stem cells. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to turn into various types of tissue, including nerves and heart cells. The possibility that these cells will provide cures for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and countless other diseases cannot be ignored by the Federal Government. Under the President's leadership, the Federal Government for the first time is funding embryonic stem cell research; however, I believe we can do more. That is why I supported legislation that will expand funding for all three types of stem cell research - adult, cord, and embryonic.
It is imperative that the Federal Government pursue research that holds such promise for the health and betterment of people worldwide. I believe that we, as a government, must hold a firm moral and ethical compass over such research. I am confident that a balance can be reached between our duty to pursue life-saving research and our duty to uphold a firm ethical code.