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Stem Cell Research

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


Stem Cell Research

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I am very grateful to be here for this hour. And I hope some of my colleagues will join me on a very important discussion about embryonic stem cell research and the huge alternative--``the'' alternative--adult stem cells, that have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that it is not only ethical, but it works.

Madam Speaker, at a time when highly significant--even historic--breakthroughs in adult stem cell research have become almost daily occurrences, and almost to the point of being mundane, President Obama has chosen to turn back the clock and, beginning just 3 days ago, will force taxpayers to subsidize the unethical over the ethical, the unworkable over what works, and hype and hyperbole over hope.

Human embryo destroying stem cell research is not only unethical, unworkable, and unreliable, it is now demonstrably unnecessary. Assertions that leftover embryos are better off dead so that their stem cells can be derived is dehumanizing, and it cheapens human life.

There is no such thing as a leftover human life. Ask the snowflake children, Madam Speaker, ask their parents. Snowflake children are those cryogenically frozen embryos who were adopted while still frozen. This past Monday, I had the privilege of being with several of those children. They look just like any other kid, any other child. And those kids could have been subjected to embryo-destroying research or they could have been poured down the drain. But thankfully, the donors, the biological parents, decided that they are better off alive and flourishing. And these kids, like so many of the other snowflake children that I have met in the past, were just like any other child.

Life is a continuum, Madam Speaker. It does not begin at the moment of birth. It starts at the moment of fertilization and continues unabated, unless interfered with, until natural death. Birth is an event that happens to your life and to mine, it is not the beginning of life.

Madam Speaker, a recent spectacular breakthrough in the noncontroversial adult stem cell research and clinical applications to effectuate cures or the mitigation of disease or disability have been well documented. For several years, significant progress has been achieved with adult stem cells derived from nonembryonic sources, including umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, brain, amniotic fluid, skin, and even fat cells. Patients with a myriad of diseases, including leukemia, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, sickle cell anemia, and dozens of other diseases have significantly benefited from adult stem cell transfers.

In 2005, Madam Speaker, I wrote a law, the Stem Cell Research and Transplantation Act of 2005. It was legislation that created a national program of bone marrow and cord blood, umbilical cord blood--or that blood that is found in the placenta--that is teeming with stem cells of high value that can be coaxed into becoming pluripotent, capable of becoming anything in the human body.

We know for a fact that cord blood stem cells can mitigate, and in some cases even cure--and there have been several--those suffering from sickle cell anemia. One out of every 500 African Americans, unfortunately, have sickle cell anemia. And cord blood transfers have the capacity and the capability to effectuate cures or the mitigation of that disease. And we have several examples.

I remember when the bill was stuck--first here, and then on the Senate side. We were able to bring people, including Dr. Julius Erving, to a press conference to appeal to the House and Senate leadership to bring that legislation forward simply because it would save lives, but it was being held hostage by the hype and the hyperbole of embryonic stem cell research, which has not cured anyone. The legislation passed the House. Finally, it was dislodged from the Senate and became law. And now we have a nationwide network overseen by HRSA, under the Department of Health and Human Services, to grow our capacity--the number of specimens of cord blood stem cells--to type it, freeze it, use best practices, and promote cures.

Now, the greatest of all breakthroughs--the greatest, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many eminent scientists--is what is known as induced pluripotent stem cells. And I say to my colleagues, and I say to anyone who may be listening on C-SPAN, iPS cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, are the future and the greatest hope for cures. They are embryo-like, but they are not embryos. There is no killing of an embryo to derive the stem cells.

On November 20, 2007, Japanese scientist, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, and Wisconsin researcher, Dr. James Thomson, shocked the scientific community by independently announcing their ability to derive induced pluripotent stem cells by reprogramming regular skin cells. And unlike embryonic stem cells that kill the donor, are highly unstable, have a propensity to morph into tumors, and are likely to be rejected by the patient unless strong antirejection medicines are administered, induced pluripotent stem cells, iPS cells, have none of those deficiencies, and again, are emerging as the future, the greatest hope of regenerative medicine.

Mr. Obama is way behind the times. Making Americans pay for embryo-destroying stem cell research is not change we can believe in--far from it--it is politics.

A decade ago, the false hope of embryo-destroying research made it difficult to oppose, no doubt. There was a lot of hype, a lot of hot air--much of it well meaning, perhaps--but it was very misleading. That is no longer the case. So the question arises; why persist in the dehumanizing of nascent human life when better alternatives exist, alternatives that work on both ethics grounds and efficacy grounds? Nonembryonic stem cell research is the present and it is the future of regenerative medicine, and the only responsible way forward.

I would be happy to yield to my good friend and colleague for any time he would like to take.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Olson, thank you very much, and I appreciate your leadership and your consistency in respecting all human life, including the unborn child. So, thank you for joining us today.

Let me just make a few final comments, Madam Speaker. While President Obama and some Members of Congress still don't get it, the breakthrough in adult stem cell research has not been lost on the mainstream press.

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For example, on November 21, 2007, Reuters reported, and I quote, ``Two separate teams of researchers announced on Tuesday they had transformed ordinary skin cells into batches of cells that look and act like embryonic stem cells, but without using cloning technology and without making embryos.''

The New York Times reported on the same day, and I quote, ``Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appears to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo--a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.''

The AP said, ``Scientists have created the equivalent of embryonic stem cells from ordinary skin cells, a breakthrough that could someday produce new treatments without the explosive moral questions of embryo cloning.''

Even University of Wisconsin's Dr. James Thomson, the man who first cultured embryonic stem cells, told the New York Times, and I quote, ``Now with the new technique, it will not be long before the stem cell wars are a distant memory. A decade from now, this will just be a funny historical footnote.''

Dr. Thomson told the Detroit Free Press, ``While ducking ethical debate wasn't the goal, it is probably the beginning of the end of the controversy over embryonic stem cells.''

If only that were true because, unfortunately, on Monday our Federal taxpayers' dollars will be used now to destroy embryos to derive their stem cells, even though they become tumors, if ever put into an individual, would be rejected and, of course, we know that they kill the donor when they are taken.

In Medical News Today, Dr. Thomson said, and I say this again, ``Speaking about the latest breakthrough, the induced cells do all the things embryonic cells do. It's going to completely change the field,'' he said. Again, this is the doctor who, in the late 1990s, gave us embryonic stem cells. He is saying induced pluripotent stem cells, those derived from your skin and mine, can be embryo-like, and really is the hope of regenerative medicine.

Ten days ago, more good news. No, I would actually say it is great news on the induced pluripotent stem cell front. Research teams from the United Kingdom and Canada published two papers in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, announcing that they had successfully reprogrammed ordinary skin cells into induced pluripotent skin cells without the use of viruses to transmit the reprogramming genes to the cell. ``With their new discovery, which they used a piggyback system, as they called it, they were able to insert DNA where they could alter the genetic makeup of the regular cell before being harmlessly removed.

``According to many scientists, the removal of potentially cancer-causing viruses means that this breakthrough increases the likelihood that iPS cells will be safe for clinical use in human patients. The lead scientist from Canada, Andras Nagy, was quoted in the Washington Post saying--this is just a week ago--``It's a leap forward in the safe application of these cells. We expect this to have a massive impact on this field.''

George Daley at Children's Hospital in Boston said, and I quote, ``It is very significant. I think it's a major step forward in realizing the value of these cells for medical research.''

Many people seem to be getting it, except for Mr. Obama, who clings to the old hype and the hyperbole concerning the efficacy of embryo-destroying stem cells. Science has moved on. It's about time the politicians caught up.

This breakthrough suggests--remember, it's just 2 weeks ago, this newest breakthrough--that the momentum has decisively, and I hope irrevocably, swung to noncontroversial stem cell research, like iPS stem cells, and away from embryo-destroying research.

The lead scientist from the UK was quoted in the BBC saying, ``It is a step towards the practical use of reprogrammed cells in medicine, perhaps even eliminating the need for human embryos as a source of stem cells.''

Time Magazine reports on the efficacy of the advantage of iPS stem cells saying, ``The induced pluripotent stem cell technology is the ultimate manufacturing process for cells. It is now possible for researchers to churn out unlimited quantities of a patient's stem cells, which can then be turned into any of the cells that the body might need to repair or to replace.''

Madam Speaker, there was an excellent op ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, which I read just a few paragraphs from, which I think really highlights and underscores the profound ethical issues we are facing. It was written by Robert George and Eric Cohen. The title, the President Politicizes Stem Cell Research. Taxpayers Have a Right to be Left Out of it.

``Yesterday, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that authorizes expanded Federal funding for research using stem cells produced by destroying human embryos. The announcement was classic Obama--advancing radical policies while seeming calm and moderate, and preaching the gospel of civility while accusing those who disagree with the policies of being; `divisive' and even `politicizing science.'

``Mr. Obama's executive order overturned an attempt by President George W. Bush in 2001 to do justice to both the promise of stem cell science and the demands of ethics. The Bush policy was to allow the government to fund research on existing embryonic stem cell lines, where the embryos in question had already been destroyed. But it would not fund or in any which incentivize the ongoing destruction of human embryos.

``For years, this policy was attacked by advocates of embryo-destructive research. Mr. Bush and the `religious right' were depicted as antiscience villains and embryonic stem cells scientists were seen as the beleaguered saviors of the sick. In reality, Mr. Bush's policy was one of moderation. It did not ban new embryonic-destructive research, and did not fund new embryo-destroying research either;

`Moderate' Mr. Obama's policy is not. It will promote a whole new industry of embryo creation and destruction, including the creation of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are destroyed. It forces American taxpayers, including those who see the deliberate taking of human life in the embryonic stage as profoundly unjust, to be complicit in this practice.

``Mr. Obama made a big point in his speech of claiming to bring integrity back to science policy, and his desire to remove the previous administration's ideological agenda from scientific decision-making. This claim of taking science out of politics is false and misguided on two counts.

``First, the Obama policy is itself blatantly political. It is red meat to his Bush-hating base. It pays no more than lip service to recent scientific breakthroughs,'' that I would note parenthetically, I and my colleagues have been talking about tonight, ``that makes possible the production of cells that are biologically equivalent to embryonic stem cells without the need to create or kill human embryos.

``Inexplicably--apart from political motivations--Mr. Obama revoked not only the Bush restrictions on embryo-destructive research funding, but also his 2007 executive order that encourages the National Institutes of Health to explore non-embryo-destructive sources of stem cells.

Second, and more fundamentally, the claim about taking politics out of science is, in the deepest sense, anti-Democratic. The question of whether to destroy human embryos for research purposes is not fundamentally a scientific question. It is a moral and civic question about the proper uses, ambitions, and limits of science; it is a question about how we will treat members of the human family at the very dawn of life; our willingness to seek alternative paths to medical progress that respect human dignity.

``For those who believe in the highest ideals of deliberative democracy and those who believe we mistreat the most vulnerable human lives at our own moral peril, Mr. Obama's claim of taking politics out of science should be lamented, not celebrated.

``In the years ahead, the stem cell debate will surely continue--raising, as it does, big questions about the meaning of human equality at the edges of human life, about the relationship between science and politics, and about how we govern ourselves when it comes to morally charged issues of public policy on which reasonable people happen to disagree.

``We can only hope in the years ahead that scientific creativity will make embryo destruction unnecessary and that, as a society, we will not pave the way to the brave new world with the best medical intentions.''

Madam Speaker, I just conclude by saying that despite all of the new and the extraordinary processes in adult stem cell research and applications, despite these magnificent breakthroughs in induced pluripotent stem cells, a part of adult stem cells, the Obama administration and, I am sad to say, the leadership of this House, remain fixated on killing human embryos for experimentation at taxpayers' expense.

The alternative has continued and will continue to prove itself to be highly efficacious. That is to say, adult stem cells. We don't need to kill human embryos to effectuate cures and to mitigate disease.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.


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