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Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

STEM CELL RESEARCH ENHANCEMENT ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - April 10, 2007)


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thank my friends, Senators HARKIN and SPECTER, for the extraordinary leadership they have provided on the extraordinary leadership they have provided on this issue, which is so important to families in our country. We deal with a lot of issues around this body. But this particular legislation probably offers more hope to more people than perhaps anything else we will do here in the Senate this year.

When we think of all of the various kinds of illnesses and diseases and accidents that have affected so many families here in the Senate--and, most importantly, the American families--we know we have the best in terms of treatment for these illnesses and sicknesses in the United States for those who are able to receive it. Still, all of these illnesses and sicknesses have defied the ablest and most gifted minds until very recently, and that is with the discovery that started about 10 years ago with the opportunity for using stem cells, which can play a very indispensable role in providing a cure for these individuals.

That is what this is basically all about--an extraordinary opportunity that is out there, and whether we in the United States are going to permit the great institution--the greatest institution for research--the National Institutes of Health to be able to unleash the vastness of the creativity, brilliance, and ability of those researchers and scientists to try to unlock the cures for so many of these diseases, and do it in a way that is ethically sound, and for so many of the reasons that have been spelled out.

This is an enormously timely bill. I thank Senator Harkin for his persistence and for ensuring we were going to be able to have this on the floor of the Senate in a timely way. I thank Senator Reid for scheduling this. I thank the broad bipartisan coalition that has come together on our side and on the other side of the aisle which has given strong support for this legislation.

It is pretty popular at this time in Washington to talk about the differences that exist in our Nation's Capital. There are some very important ones. We have come together, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate--those who have over a long period of time advocated the pro-life position and those who have felt there should be an ability for individuals to make judgments about their own future--in support of this legislation. So this is a very special time, and this vote we are going to have tomorrow is enormously important.

Again, I thank my colleagues and friends for bringing us to the point where we are today. Nearly a decade ago, American scientists made the revolutionary discovery that tiny cells, called stem cells, held the extraordinary potential to offer new hope and new help in the fight against diabetes and Parkinson's disease, spinal injury, and many other illnesses.

Six years ago, many of us in the Senate joined millions of patients and their families in calling on President Bush to support this lifesaving research. Sadly, he rejected those calls and instead imposed severe restrictions on the search for the cures.

Since those severe limitations were imposed, we have struggled to free American scientists from these unwarranted restrictions. Last year, we scored a great victory when the House and Senate, with broad bipartisan majorities, voted to end those restrictions. But those efforts came to naught with a veto, and we are back at the battle again.

I share that view of my colleagues and friends in saying if we are not successful--although we are hopeful we will be--we are going to continue this battle day in and day out until we are successful.

Today we renew our hope that the President will start anew and consider the merits of this new legislation instead of automatically picking up the veto pen. When Congress passed the bipartisan stem cell bill last year, we voted for hope, for progress, and for life. But President Bush chose to dash those hopes by vetoing the legislation.

Now we are taking up the cause once again. Our legislation again brings together conservatives and progressives, Members of Congress on both sides of the debate over a woman's right to choose. Representatives from big cities, small towns, rural communities--we all agree stem cell research must go forward.

This legislation before us is only six pages long. It is a short, simple bill with enormous goals and vast potential. It overturns the unrealistic and unreasonable restrictions on the embryonic stem cell research imposed by the President's Executive order 5 years ago. His unilateral action bypassed Congress and froze progress in its tracks by barring the NIH from funding research using any stem cells derived after August 9, 2001, an arbitrary date chosen solely to coincide with the President's speech.

Many of us warned at that time that this policy would delay the search for new cures and put needless barriers in the way of medical progress. At a HELP Committee hearing days after the Executive order was issued, many of us raised concerns about the new policy and urged the President to reconsider.

Our concerns were dismissed by the administration, but time has shown that each of the drawbacks we feared then has become a real barrier to progress today.

At the time of the Executive order, the administration claimed that over 60 independent stem lines would be available to NIH researchers. We found, as our friend from California, Senator Feinstein, and Senator Harkin pointed out earlier, that 21 of those stem lines are available to NIH researchers and all those were obtained using out-of-date methods and outmoded techniques.

We listened carefully to the words of Dr. Landis, who is chair of the NIH stem cell task force, in testimony before the Senate in January of this year.

``We are missing out on possible breakthroughs.''

``Federally funded research has monitoring oversight and transparency that privately funded research will not necessarily have.''

``The cell lines that are eligible for the NIH funding now have been shown to have genetic instabilities,'' effectively pointing out the missed opportunities that are in place now because of the restrictions put on by the administration and that even the research that is being done in the private sector, as limited as it is, is lacking in the kind of monitoring and oversight and, in many instances, the enormously important ethical considerations that have been included in this legislation.

It has been mentioned earlier in this discussion but needs to be mentioned again, the excellent statement by the Director of the National Institutes of Health before the Senate on March 19, where he points out:

To sideline the NIH in such an issue of importance, in my view, is shortsighted. I think it wouldn't serve the Nation well in the long run. We need to find a way to move forward.

These are two of the most distinguished researchers, scientists. Dr. Zerhouni has had a brilliant record at the NIH. Dr. Landis has had a brilliant record. Anyone who has the opportunity to listen to them respond to questions can't help but leave that meeting recognizing and supporting their position.

Those are the issues. That is what this legislation is about. Our legislation makes the basic change needed to reverse our current policy. As has been pointed out, science without ethics is akin to a ship without a rudder. For that reason, the legislation establishes essential ethical safeguards for stem cell research--enormously important--and has been reviewed earlier during this debate.

Our legislation authorizes new initiatives for obtaining the stem cells from sources other than embryos. We strongly support ongoing research for alternatives to embryonic stem cell research, but it is fundamentally wrong to shut down the promise of new cures while that search is underway.

In the end, this debate is not about abstract principles or complex aspects of science but the people who look with hope to stem cell research to help them with the challenges they face.

It is important to SGT Jason Wittling. Let me read about SGT Jason Wittling. He was injured in Kabala, Iraq. He is in the U.S. Marine Corps:

I was in Charlie Company, 1st Combat Engineering Battalion, 1st Marine Division. I spent 10 years, 1 month, 28 days in the Marine Corps, but who's counting. On May 9, 2003, on the outskirts of Kabala, Iraq, my squad was disposing of Iraqi ordinances.

The fuse went off prematurely, and as a result of the accident, his vehicle overturned on him.

I had burst fractures of my C6 vertebrae in my neck, broke my right wrist, and a number of other injuries. He is in a wheelchair now, a brave and courageous marine.

Sergeant Wittling now looks to stem cell research for new hope for his injuries. He has had multiple surgeries.

Here is LCpl James Crosby of Winthrop, MA. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17. He is married to Angela. He was living in California before his service and injury. On March 18, James was wounded by enemy fire while riding in the back of a U.S. military vehicle in Iraq. A rocket was fired and killed the driver and injured two marines, including James. Shrapnel pierced James's side and penetrated his intestine and spine. James was immediately flown to a hospital in Kuwait. He had his first operation there and was stabilized. He was finally flown to a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

In Germany, James underwent several surgeries to remove shrapnel and repair wounds. James's wife Angela was flown to Germany to be with him. He is now in a wheelchair. He has had multiple additional operations. He has lost 50 pounds, requires a colostomy bag at all times. He has undergone 14 surgeries. He remains paralyzed from the waste down.

He is now in a wheelchair and has high hopes that stem cell research can be of help, permitting him to recover from his wounds.

There are countless others who have similar injuries and recognize the importance of this research.

I am going to conclude with a letter I received from 15-year-old Lauren Stanford, who is from Plymouth, MA, who has juvenile diabetes. In her letter, she wrote of her hope of what stem cell research means to her and her family. She wrote me again this year. While she is still full of hope, you can also hear her frustration. These are her words:

I'm now wearing what is called a continuous glucose monitoring system. It has a wire probe that I insert under my skin every few days on my own. When I first held the wire probe to my thigh, I was scared to death. The needle was huge, and I was going to be plunging it into my body. Would it hurt? What if it didn't work? Was it worth the risk? After about 20 minutes of sweating and shaking, I stopped chickening out and found the guts to do it. And then, as soon as I did it, I knew almost immediately it was the right thing to do. It went in fine. It didn't hurt that much. And it is helping me.

Those were her words. She goes on to write to each of us about our decisions on how to vote on this legislation. Here is what she writes:

Some of you might be scared to vote yes. You know it's the right thing to do; after all, if embryos are being discarded, how can it not be right to use them to help people like me?

Your hand is lingering over the yes lever, just like mine was over the insertion device. You can see it might do some good ..... but you're afraid. Someone might get mad. It might hurt a little. But follow my lead. Be brave.

Do something that might hurt a little or scare you for a second, but after will make so many things so much better. Vote yes to allow scientists to do this valuable research to free kids like me from horrible diseases. Vote yes and take another step along with me to finding cures.

No one ever said doing the right thing, the brave thing, and the thing to make the world better would be easy. I've learned that the hard way. Vote yes. Free me from the machines that keep me alive. Clear away my future of kidney damage, blindness and fear of a shortened life.

Those are Lauren Stanford's words, and they compel us to act. Tomorrow we can cast a vote of conscience and courage. By approving the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, we call upon the President of the United States to think anew and decide not to veto hope.


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