DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010 -- (Senate - July 09, 2009)
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NEW STEM CELL RESEARCH POLICY
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise today to applaud the administration for promptly issuing guidelines implementing President Obama's March 2009 Executive Order on stem cell research. This week, the administration removed the barriers to responsible scientific research involving embryonic stem cells that had been imposed by the previous administration in 2001. The new guidelines establish sound policy and procedures under which the Federal Government will fund such research and help ensure that the research is ethically responsible, scientifically worthy, and conducted in accordance with applicable laws.
President Obama's action will have a profound impact on the long-term health and well-being of millions of Americans. More than 100 million Americans have chronic, debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and ALS. In addition, many Americans have serious spinal cord injuries. Embryonic stem cell research offers hope for advancements in treatment that will improve the quality of life for countless numbers of Americans.
For the past 8 years, American scientists have received limited Federal funding for stem cell research. In 2001, soon after taking office, President Bush issued his stem cell policy. It permitted the use of Federal funds to support research only on the stem cell lines that were in existence as of the date of his Executive order, August 9, 2001.
The Bush compromise seemed reasonable to many in the scientific community at the time, as researchers at NIH believed between 60 and 78 stem cell lines would be available for use. In fact, only 22 lines were available and some of these were found to have been contaminated. In addition, the 22 available lines were developed using science that has since seen significant improvements. Scientists have testified that these lines lack the genetic diversity necessary to perform research for several diseases that disproportionately affect minority populations. In short, there were real deficiencies in the former administration's policy. It reduced the opportunities available to our scientists, undermined progress, and it discouraged scientific exploration.
Perhaps the best case for stem cell research comes from the patients in the communities we represent here in Congress. I have learned first hand of the importance of moving forward on groundbreaking scientific research through my friendships with three individuals.
A few years ago, my closest friend in law school, Larry Katz, was diagnosed with ALS. Once an active attorney in Baltimore, Larry's body experienced a rapid decline from the symptoms of this debilitating disease, and he died soon after his diagnosis.
Later, I was privileged to meet a young man named Josh Basile, who served as an intern in my House office. Three years before he came to Capitol Hill, he was a healthy young man, leading an active life. But while wading in the Atlantic Ocean, a wave caught him, and he became a quadriplegic overnight. Josh is determined to walk again, and he is making substantial progress. He is also dedicated to helping others make similar strides, and he has established a foundation called ``Determined-2-Heal.'' Through hard work and rehabilitation, Josh has regained movement that many doctors thought was impossible. Josh is also asking the Federal Government to do its part, by funding research and allowing scientists access to the tools they need to make medical advances possible.
Later, in 2006, I came to know Michael J. Fox, a brilliant and talented actor with a remarkable spirit. In 1991, Michael was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He has used his prominence as a tireless advocate for stem cell research.
The time I have spent with these three people has taught me much about the burden of debilitating diseases. Those of us who have loved ones experiencing these and similar circumstances share a responsibility to do everything we can to promote medical research. Our scientists need the tools to discover cures and treatments, and stem cell research holds hope for dramatic progress.
There is an added benefit for our Nation beyond improving the health and lives of patients. We are also talking about maintaining the international preeminence of the United States in the field of medical research. My State of Maryland is home to some of the world's leading research institutions, including Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Medical Centers. These institutions have cutting-edge research technology and freeing up these important stem cell lines would jumpstart the numerous promising research tracks in this area.
I meet regularly with scientists like Dr. John Gearhart and Dr. Douglas Kerr to try to get a better understanding about this issue. I am not a scientist nor do I know all the technicalities, but I have had a chance to meet with these scientists to see what they are doing. They have been able to implant embryonic stem cell growth in mice and see movement where there had been paralysis. This research is extremely promising and is happening right now in my State.
The new National Institutes of Health funding guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research are the next important step to expand this research even further. It will result in the availability of approximately 700 lines for research, a dramatic increase over the number of currently available lines.
The new guidelines are based on solid principles. First, that Federal funding for responsible research with human embryonic stem cells has the potential to improve our understanding of human health and illness and discover new ways to prevent and treat illness. Second, individuals donating embryos for research purposes must do so freely, with voluntary and informed consent. They must be derived from embryos that were created for in vitro fertilization and not for research purposes, and they must be excess embryos. To be eligible for NIH funding the embryonic stem cells cannot be obtained through monetary payments or other inducements.
Additionally, human embryonic stem cells eligible for testing must have originated from facilities with proper documentation that the embryos were obtained in a voluntary and legitimate manner. Finally, the guidelines prohibit Federal funding of research that would introduce human embryonic stem cells into breeding animals or into nonhuman primate blastocysts. These guidelines are responsible, have stringent safeguards, and they are ethically sound.
As the new NIH guidelines are implemented, America's knowledge of the potential of stem cell research will continue to broaden. President Obama's courageous actions will accelerate this process. The guidelines send a clear message to scientists across the United States that their important work is now backed by the confidence and resources of the Federal Government.
I commend the administration for this decisive action which will strengthen America's position as the global leader in medical research and for the tremendous hope and promise that its new policy is bringing to millions of Americans.
I yield the floor.
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