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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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By Mr. HARKIN (for himself, Mr. Specter, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Hatch, Mrs. Feinstein, and Mr. Reid):

S. 487. A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I have spoken many times in this Chamber about the promise of stem cell research. For more than a decade, ever since scientists first succeeded in deriving human embryonic stem cells, I have done my utmost to promote this exciting field, which offers so much hope for so many people.

President Obama has promised to lift the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research that were put in place by President Bush, and I hope and expect that he will do so soon. But we have to make sure that the freedom to pursue this research is also protected by Federal law, not merely by an executive order that can be reversed during a future administration.

That is why Senator Specter and I, along with Senators Kennedy, Hatch, and Feinstein, are introducing the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2009. This is the exact same bipartisan bill that both houses of Congress approved in 2007, but was vetoed by President Bush. I urge Congress to pass this law again, and for President Obama to sign it, so our scientists can move forward with this research posthaste, without fear of further political interference.

Let me spend just a moment reviewing what this bill will accomplish. More than 7 years ago, the President announced that federally funded scientists could conduct research on embryonic stem cells only if the cells had been derived before August 9, 2001, at 9 p.m.

I never understood that. Why 9 p.m.? Why not 9:30? If stem cell research is morally acceptable at 8:59 p.m., why isn't it OK at 9:01? It's totally arbitrary.

When the President announced his policy, he said that 78 stem cell lines were eligible for federally funded research. But, today, only 21 of those 78 lines are eligible--not nearly enough to reflect the genetic diversity of this Nation. Many of those 21 lines are showing their age, and all were grown with mouse feeder cells, an outdated method that raises concerns about contamination.

Meanwhile, hundreds of new stem cell lines have been derived since the President's arbitrary deadline. Many of those lines are uncontaminated and healthy. But they're totally off-limits to federally funded scientists.

That is a shame. If we are serious about realizing the promise of stem cell research--about helping people with Parkinson's, cancer, juvenile diabetes, and so many other diseases--our scientists need access to the best stem cell lines available. We need a stem cell policy that offers credible, meaningful hope. And that's what this bill would provide.

Under this bill, Federally funded researchers could study any stem cell line, regardless of the date that it was derived, as long as strict ethical guidelines are met.

Most importantly, the only way a stem cell line could be eligible for federally funded research is if it were derived from an embryo that was otherwise going to be discarded.

There are more than 400,000 embryos in the United States that are left over from fertility treatments and are currently sitting frozen in storage. Most of those embryos will eventually be thrown away. All we are saying is, instead of discarding all 400,000 of those leftover embryos, let's allow couples to donate a few of them, if they wish, to create stem cell lines that could cure diseases and save lives.

Mr. President, it is time to lift the restrictions that have handcuffed stem cell research for more than 7 years. I urge the Senate to pass this bill as soon as possible and send it to the President for his signature.

I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD

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