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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. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank my colleagues for this bill. Senator Coleman and Senator Isakson have put a great deal of time into this bill, and I am pleased to work with them in bringing about this formulation. If I am not already a cosponsor, I ask unanimous consent to be added as a cosponsor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. COBURN. Unlike many in the Chamber, I am a scientist. I am a physician. I have delivered, at last count, somewhere over 4,000 babies. I understand embryology. I understand the science of molecular biology. This debate is going to come down to a couple of moral questions. There are really two moral questions that this country has to answer. I will talk about those, and then I will talk about a few other things that most people don't want to admit to or discuss, issues surrounding this topic.

The first moral issue is, do we have the capability to destroy life in the name of saving life? That is what we are talking about with embryonic stem cells. We selectively snuff out a life so that we can potentially have a treatment in the future. That is the first great moral question. I have seen the various early stages and then every other stage through pregnancy what that life potential is. It is not to be taken lightly, this step of ignoring life or neutralizing life under the proxy of saying we are going to benefit someone.

We have heard many people talk about the promise of embryonic stem cells. They do yield promise for us. However, it is a long way off. But we need to be careful with this step in the direction of destroying life in the name of saving life.

I thought Senator Isakson did a very good job of explaining embryos that no longer grow. They have quit dividing. They won't be frozen. They won't be implanted. They, in fact, will be discarded. But they still have tremendous value for us for research. As he noted, 5 of the 21 lines presently being researched, and 3 of the 10 lines that presently have no problems whatsoever came from dead embryos, embryos that still have live cells but won't divide again unless induced to do so, and then won't divide into an embryo.

This is a big question for us because how we answer this question today is going to say a lot about the decisions we make in the future. One of the things we are going to hear about is the tremendous amount of excess embryos around. Here is a RAND study report that disputes that. Here is a scientific research organization that looked at the availability of excess embryos and in fact says the claims are not supported by the facts.

I ask unanimous consent to print this in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:


Mr. COBURN. The second question we have to ask ourselves is, if you are a mother of a juvenile diabetic, a 2- or 3-year-old, or you are the wife of a Parkinson's patient or the caregiver of somebody with a spinal cord injury, if we told you that in fact we can do everything to produce a cure, to give you the exact same opportunity for a cure without ever destroying the first embryo, which would your choice be? Would your choice be to destroy that embryo or to do it in a nondestructive way getting exactly the same results?

That is where the science is today. That is going to be disputed. But the false hopes that have been created that that is the only way that we can find these cures is nothing but hogwash, scientifically proven hogwash.

The fact is, we don't know what is going to come from embryonic stem cells. We know a lot that will come from other treatments. I just shared with Senator Coleman, we will have a treatment for juvenile diabetes within 5 years, but it won't come from stem cells. It is going to come from the tobacco plant. That is very new research. It has been repeated in mice. It is working. We will have that cure. That is going to get funded, and it will be produced long before anything else that comes to an actual cure.

By the way, autologous stem cells, cells taken from yourself, have already cured five juvenile diabetics by taking the cells from a tube inside the pancreas and growing those cells, regenerating beta cells, and reimplanting those into children who have juvenile diabetes, who are off insulin today. So there are lots of opportunities.

The second moral question that Americans need to ask themselves, as do Members of this body, is if we can do everything without destroying the first embryo, why do we want to destroy embryos? Because it is easy? Because it is convenient? Because we are locked in a mantra that says this is the only way. Think for a minute about what else is going on. We now produce almost every cell type that man has from germ cells, research done in this country, proven in Germany, in Japan, another source of stem cells. Didn't destroy the first embryo, but we have it. Altered nuclear transfer, assisted reprogramming, which you heard Senator Coleman talk about, has not been done in humans yet because it hasn't been funded. The fact is, it has been done in mice. You sit and think, what can happen.

When we heard that these were theories by the Senator from Iowa, going to the Moon was a theory, but we did it. The fact is, there are lots of other theories on how to treat disease out there that we are going to be accomplishing that aren't going to have anything to do with stem cells.

It is important that we don't take our eye off the ball. This is a very key moral question that has to be answered. It has to be answered by all the disease groups out there. If, in fact, we can supply the same product in the same timeline with the same results, why would we want to destroy an embryo? If we could do it in an ethically, morally correct way, why would we do it in an ethically less correct way?

Then there is the little problem that you never hear talked about with stem cells. The only way a stem cell therapy is ever going to work without antirejection drugs, the only way it is ever going to work is if you clone yourself. They don't want to talk about that right now. But for a treatment to happen that will keep you free from rejecting that stem cell, that treatment, that set of cells that is not purely yours will mean anybody who gets a treatment from an embryonically derived stem cell will be on antirejection drugs the rest of their life, which has multiple complications. The solution to that--they don't want to talk about it--is you have to clone yourself. So now we are into cloning ourselves and then destroying ourselves so we can have a treatment for ourselves? That is the dirty little secret that nobody with embryonic stem cells wants to talk about.

The interesting answer to that is altered nuclear transfer, oocyte-assisted reprogramming, which has none of those problems because you use one of your cells into an egg, reprogram it to produce pluripotent cells that never produce an embryo. Nobody wants to talk about the real scientific issue of the problems of a treatment for a disease that we have no treatments for yet, that is well down the road, and the big kicker that will come is, what if we get a treatment and then we try to give it and everybody is going to have to be on an antirejection drug. Everybody knows somebody who has had a transplant. Ask them how they like taking their drugs. They like taking them because they have a new liver or heart or kidney, but if they could not take those drugs and have it, they would much rather have that.

So we set up a false choice. The false choice is, embryonic stem cells or nothing. That is not a real choice for this country.

I believe America is a great land, made up of good people. If we answer this second moral question, if we can do this, and we can, through multiple ways, why would we destroy the first embryo?

We do not have to destroy the first embryo.

I think we ought to be considering the moral questions, but also the facts that are going to come about as a result of this fascination and hope for a cure. I have had mothers of juvenile diabetics in my office. I have had family members of Alzheimer's patients. I have had a Parkinson's patient plead with me to do this. When I explain to them what is on the horizon, when I explain to them what the potentials are, all of a sudden this hope that has no substance to it yet whatsoever does not have near the meaning as all the other things that are going on that do have meaning.

So we need to refocus on the real search, the real potential that is in front of our country and answer this best, most important moral question: Do we steal life from the innocent to potentially give life to the maimed or the injured or diseased, or do we, in fact, do it in a way that never steals life and accomplishes the same goal?

That is the real question before the Senate. S. 30 does that. S. 5 does not. That is the division. One says: To heck with the ethics, to heck with the problems associated with it, to heck with the rejection, to heck with the antirejection drugs, to heck with the idea we cannot clone ourselves, we want to go this way only.

S. 30 allows all the options, all the accomplishments, all the potential without violating the first ethical clause. That is the question America needs to ask itself in this debate. We can give to all those who are desirous of all these needed benefits of cure and treatment, and we can do it in an ethically responsible manner that will send us down the right road for this country, not the wrong road.

With that, I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have been listening to the debate on this bill from my office. I have written down some of the miraculous statements that have been made on the floor of the Senate, and I thought I would resubmit some of them with some constructive criticism.

Seventy-eight stem cell lines are no longer useful. That is not accurate. All stem cell lines are contaminated with mouse feeder cells. Not true, either. The policy does not work. Not true. Research on stem cells under the present cannot go forward. I would remind the body that stem cells, embryonic stem cells are being researched every day in this country with private money. This is about using Federal dollars to destroy embryos; it is not about blocking embryonic stem cell research.

The statement was made by the Senator from California that these are embryos that would already be destroyed. Now that is not accurate at all. Only S. 5 embraces all forms of stem cell research. S. 30 embraces every form of stem cell research, including embryonic stem cells, but it makes the correct distinction of taking a nonviable embryo that is still viable for embryonic stem cells but not viable to create a human and uses those instead of the true potential-for-life embryos. There would be no limitation on the numbers of these.

If we go to a fertility clinic today where embryos are created, what we see is a range of embryos in terms of their quality. Then they are graded. Some are implantable. Some are frozen. Some have quit dividing. Those that quit dividing but are not dead but don't have the potential are the ones S. 30 will allow to be used for embryonic stem cells. It bypasses the ethical dilemma we have and still gives us embryonic stem cell research.

It was just released by the Journal of the American Medical Association and was on CNN, 13 young people from the ages of 14 to 31, now living in Brazil, who had type 1 diabetes were treated with their own immune cells given back to them, and they now live without insulin. That was released today. It didn't have anything to do with an embryonic stem cell.

Someone during the debate said: We all know embryonic stem cells hold the most potential. I believe the Presiding Officer now in the chair said that. That is not true. They don't hold the most potential. They hold great research potential, but what we ought to be interested in is therapeutics. How do we treat diseases? How do we accomplish therapies to do the most good for the most people?

What we are going to find out is, there will be some potential from embryonic stem cells. But if I had a child with diabetes, I would want it fixed as soon as I could, not 10 or 15 years from now. The fact is, we have all these treatments that are coming about. I am convinced, as much as I am alive and standing here today, that within 10 years new onset type 1 diabetics will be cured within 2 months of the onset of their disease. That is going to happen. We are going to see that. We will see tremendous treatments for that, whether from germ cell lines, embryonic stem cell lines that are harvested correctly and ethically, and other treatments, including autologous or their own stem cells used to treat the body.

I introduced into the Record the RAND study on the available embryos. We had it quoted today, there are 400,000 of them out there. That is not true. It is more like 13,000 available. So when we have this exaggerated claim that 400,000 embryos are waiting to be destroyed for embryonic stem cell research, that is not true.

Mr. COLEMAN. Will the Senator from Oklahoma yield?

Mr. COBURN. I am happy to yield.

Mr. COLEMAN. I believe the Senator from Oklahoma earlier introduced a RAND study that talked about the number of embryos. I believe there are nearly 400,000 that may be in IVF clinics. Apparently, only 2.8 percent have the potential to be discarded. Is that correct?

Mr. COBURN. That is correct.

Mr. COLEMAN. Is there a sense that the Senator from Oklahoma has in terms of decisions that parents and others are making about the kind of life potential of those 97 percent that are not being discarded, that are being frozen for future attempts at pregnancy?

Mr. COBURN. There is no question it happens every day. One of the things we have seen in our State is, we sometimes overfertilize eggs and create too many. But when it comes down to the individual couple who says: We are going to try this implantation, we are going to save these, then if they have a child, they may want to have another child, so that many of these are saved in reserve for that family. To say there are 400,000 when, in fact, there are probably less than 13,000 that could be available, if you look at the other side of that, how many nongrowing, nonviable embryos are available today? Fifty to seventy to one hundred thousand of the stage 3 embryos that can be used for embryonic stem cell that doesn't violate the ethical dilemma we face today. So the reason I put the RAND study in there is so the Record will show the facts, not the desire of a Member of the Senate to overstate the case. The fact is, there are less than 13,000 available. The fact is, level 3 embryos, there are 100,000 available. Nobody talks about that. In fact, 3 of the 10 that are the best lines right now running came from exactly that source. So we know that is the potential.

Let me continue. We had the statement: Science without ethics is like a ship without a rudder. That is true. Therefore, when we start destroying life, where is our rudder? When we start marginalizing the weakest and the most vulnerable in our society to say we are going to do something good somewhere when, in fact, the science doesn't show that yet, where is our rudder? That is what S. 30 does. S. 30 gives an ethical option for every need we have in the scientific community to accomplish everything the scientific community wants to accomplish. There are no limitations in S. 30.

The Senator from Minnesota has made the point, President Bush is going to veto S. 5. He has already said he is going to veto it. So a year from now, where do we want to be in terms of stem cell research? Do we want to have more embryonic stem cell lines and do we want to have more embryonic stem cell lines the NIH can use money to research on? The answer is, yes, we do. There is one way to do that. That is S. 30. S. 30 allows that. I am convinced, as an obstetrician and as a scientist, that 10 years from now we won't use embryos whatsoever to produce stem cells. We will use embryonic stem cells to help us research genetics and drug treatments for difficult diseases that we already have, and we will use other methods to produce cell lines that will give us cures to disease.

I ask unanimous consent to print in the Record the recent announcement of the article in JAMA on CNN, ``Type 1 diabetics live without insulin in stem cell experiment.''

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:


Mr. COBURN. There are two ethical questions America has to answer. One is, is it OK to destroy life with the potential of helping cure maladies--we haven't seen it yet--with the potential, the hope to cure maladies? In the midst of that ethical question, is it OK to destroy that life when you could do the same thing without destroying life by using class 3 embryos? That is the first ethical dilemma. The second ethical dilemma we face as a nation and as citizens of this country and as Members of this body is, if in fact it is true there are other ways to get to the exact same goal of treatments--we all want to fulfill the hopes and the desires, whether they are paraplegics, quadriplegics, diabetics, Parkinson's or others, all these tremendous diseases that we know we are going to be able to eventually find a cure for--if we can do that without ever having to destroy the first embryo, wouldn't we all rather go that way? That is what S. 30 offers. S. 30 offers an opportunity to accomplish exactly the same thing without destroying the first life. How we answer that question is going to say a lot about our country.

My hope is a year from now we are standing on this floor and seeing all this promise come true, whether it be altered nuclear transfer, whether it be germ cell, which I happen to believe is going to be another great option in terms of multipotent and pluripotent stem cells, that we will see the fruits and the wisdom of the Senate that passes a bill, S. 30, which actually makes a difference. S. 5 isn't going to make any difference. It is going to get vetoed. It is not going to do anything to help us except create a political posture that the President has said he will not bow to. He is not going to sign it. He is going to veto it, and the House will not override it. So the question is, if you want to give hope, if you want to promote a potential for treatment and cures for all these strong and tough diseases families are facing and individual patients are facing, the way to do that is to make sure S. 30 becomes law. It will, in fact, be the thing that makes the difference. S. 5 won't. S. 5 is going to get vetoed, and we will be back here doing the same thing next year and the next year and the next year.

The point is, let's do what we can today, and S. 30 accomplishes that.

I thank the Senator and yield the floor.


The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Minnesota.

Mr. COLEMAN. I thank the Senator from Oklahoma for both his passion and his expertise. I think he said this morning--how many babies has the Senator delivered?

Mr. COBURN. A shade over 4,000.


Mr. COBURN. I wanted to add one other thing. When the American people think about stem cells and potential treatments, the thing that is never talked to them about is the idea of tissue rejection. There isn't going to be an embryonic stem cell that produces a cell that can be used in any human without the use of antirejection drugs. The only way you can get around that is to clone yourself. The only way you can get around it totally, without any rejection whatsoever, is to be a female and clone yourself, because cells have these wonderful little engines in them called mitochondria. They have separate DNA.

That DNA of the cloned egg will be accomplished as a part of that.

So this idea we think we are going to have this great answer, even once we get to treatments--treatments that use embryonic stem cells rather than altered nuclear transfer, or oocyte-assisted reprogramming--those cells will all have to have accompanying with them, all those treatments, anti-rejection drugs.

If you know anybody who has had any type of organ transplant, ask them how it is to take those drugs. The only way you do that is, we come to the next ethical dilemma: Is it OK for you to clone yourself, then destroy that life you have cloned so you can take part of that for you? All those ethical dilemmas are gone in altered nuclear transfer because now you are inserting stem cells from your own body. They are your own cells. There is no rejection.

In this study in Brazil I just put in the Record, there is no rejection because they are using their own cells. They have eliminated the ability of their body to destroy their islet cells in their pancreas and have done that with their own cells. There is no rejection so they are not on any medicines. They are not on insulin anymore because they are now producing insulin.

So the fact is, we should make sure we understand if and when--and there is no guarantee the ``when'' is going to come--we have embryonic stem cell treatments, those are going to be accompanied by antirejection treatments as well. However, if you use your own cells for the same treatment--we heard Senator Brownback talk about the numerous studies that are ongoing now with autologous or self-giving reparations from your own body--there is no rejection issue.

So it is easy for us to talk, and it is easy for us to offer hope, but we need to make sure when we talk about that hope, when we talk about embryonic stem cells, we are balancing it with a realism that we are not off treatment, even though we offer a cure, because now we have a treatment to make sure the cure works. So it is a step that is positive, but it is not the panacea that has been described on this floor today.

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