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Public Statements

Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

STEM CELL RESEARCH ENHANCEMENT ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - April 11, 2007)


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I thank the Chair and the distinguished manager. I thank him also for his leadership on this issue, which has been long and steady.

Last summer, I had the privilege of coming to the floor to speak on this issue, accompanied by a summer intern from my office, a college student from Massachusetts named Beth Colby. Beth was paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident when she was 14 years old. She came to Washington, like so many women, and so many young folks, period, to learn about Government. She also came here with a determination to try to fight for the scientific research that holds untold promise for her and for tens of millions of Americans. She wanted to be, as she put it to me in asking to come to the floor during the debate on stem cell research, a face Senators can see so they can see what they are voting for.

The truth is there are people like that in every single community in our country. They are all hoping to benefit one day from lifesaving stem cell therapy. Grandparents with Parkinson's disease have that hope. Soldiers coming back from Iraq who are crippled by a roadside bomb have that hope. Children who, decades from now, will suffer from a disease we are not aware of yet, or that we know well, hope stem cell research might be able to cure them.

Since we first heard about stem cell research several years ago, the country has been on a journey together. We have discussed it. A lot of folks have sat around their kitchen tables and in their living rooms and have talked about stem cell research. Everybody has debated it. We have learned a lot more about the promise and the peril of stem cell research. At first, our natural reaction was to temper our excitement with a well-founded fear that this technology perhaps posed insurmountable ethical hurdles. The President himself deliberated. He appointed a task force. He studied and debated the fine points with teams of bioethicists. He reached what he felt was a reasonable compromise. In August of 2001, he announced to the American people that Federal funds would be used only for research on a few lines of stem cells that were already harvested. Back then, he said stem cells ``offer both great promise and great peril. I have decided we must proceed with great care.''

That was the President speaking. Since then, America's understanding of this issue has evolved. We have learned that the lines available for research are far less useful than we had initially hoped. We learned the technology is as promising as we dreamed it might be. We have come to understand that embracing stem cell research does not condemn us to the slippery slope of human cloning.

Since the President's decision, stem cell research funded by the private sector and by the States has gone ahead across the country. But it has gone ahead slower than many of us might like in the absence of crucial Federal funding--fast enough to fill the pages of major medical journals with exciting new discoveries. But this research has taken place on a large enough scale at our most important educational research institutions to be able to tell us it addresses our major fears. What in the summer of 2001 might have seemed a well-founded suspicion has completely proven to be unfounded. As Newt Gingrich told me yesterday, after reversing himself and acknowledging the threat posed by global warming is both urgent and real, serious legislators change their stances over time. That is permissible. That is the product of thinking, the product of additional information and additional input.

Look at the Senate. Republicans such as JOHN MCCAIN, former majority leader BILL FRIST, the Senator from Utah, ORRIN HATCH, who is on the floor now, have looked carefully at the scientific facts and have searched their own consciousness. They have all reached the same conclusion: Opposing stem cell research is the opposite of a pro-life policy.

Last summer, 63 Senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, and 235 House Members voted in favor of stem cell research. That was a responsible bill, a consensus bill. It was designed specifically to address the concerns of lawmakers who are worried about the bioethics--and appropriately worried, I might add. It is difficult to get 63 Senators to agree on anything more controversial than the sort of standard fare of America, and it is especially difficult on a polarizing, emotionally charged issue. But we came together as a Senate. We hammered out our differences and they came together in the House, and we arrived at a smart, thoughtful, sensitive piece of legislation that reflected a consensus and respected our

collective conscience. When we did so, we were confronted by a President who promised to proceed with great care, whose commitment to deliberation has calcified into a stubborn refusal to confront reality or re-engage in a changing debate.

America has evolved on this issue, but the President has stood still. That is why over an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority, the President finally dusted off the veto pen and offered up the first and, to date, the only veto of his entire Presidency. The President has signed good and bad legislation--torture bills, pork, giveaways to oil companies, and tax cuts for millionaires. But when it came to a strong emerging national consensus on an issue that brings hope to families across the country, the President chose to shut down the debate and block Federal funding for scientific research.

Make no mistake, this is a personal issue--deeply personal for each of us in this Chamber, and for the President. I understand that. I am confident when the President made his decision about stem cell research over 6 years ago, he searched his mind and his heart, as all of us who care passionately about this issue have done. If he vetoes stem cell research again, that will send a message that this country no longer intends to be the global leader in scientific knowledge and discovery. It would send a message to Americans suffering from Parkinson's, spinal injuries, and countless ailments that their well-being is not important to us. We are telling these people we could do more to cure you, but we choose not to. We are telling them help is not on the way.

The current policy is eroding our national advantage on stem cell research. It is undermining the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans. We are tying our scientists' hands behind their backs and holding them back from the possibilities of the future.

We need a Federal policy that builds on the advances being made in our States and our universities, in our private foundations, and in our research centers, all of which have proceeded in a thoughtful and commonsense way to the ethics concerned in this issue. The research now is already showing tremendous promise. In my State of Massachusetts, some of the best scientists in the world are working at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. We are still in the early stages of this line of research, but there is here the kind of discovery that we are already making.

Let me explain. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute identified cells that they call ``master cardiac'' stem cells, which is a single cell type that gives rise to the major cellular building blocks of the mammalian heart. That discovery rewrote the story of cardiac development and contributed a significant building block toward what could become revolutionary new treatments for heart disease. We are already seeing cures for diseases in our labs.

At the Whitehead Institute, a leading stem cell researcher and his team used stem cell therapy to cure a mouse suffering from an immune deficiency disease. As you can see, the research is still in the early stages, so we cannot say what the immediate results are going to be for humans. But, rest assured, today's breakthroughs in mice have often become tomorrow's cures for humans.

Now we can all hope that alternatives to embryonic stem cell research hold similar promise. But you cannot wish away what our scientists are telling us. Research on embryonic stem cells is incredibly promising, pivotal to this new field, and not easily sidestepped. Nobel Prize winners past and present, and most likely future, believe this is the future biology of medical science.

People of good will and good sense can resolve these complicated ethical issues without stopping lifesaving research. The country has led the world in revolutionary discoveries, with our breakthroughs and our beliefs moving ahead together, symbiotically. Senate passage of this bill with a veto-proof majority can put us, again, on that path.

We are giving this administration yet another chance to consider a misjudgment with profound consequences. We are working to create a framework for ethical, federally funded research. Like the bill passed last summer, this legislation provides important ethical safeguards by extending federally funded research only to embryos that are, one, donated by in vitro fertilization clinics; two, created specifically for fertility treatment, not for research; three, in excess of treatment needs and would otherwise be discarded; and four, donated by treatment-seeking individuals who provided written, informed consent and were not offered financial inducements. I cannot think of any way to more effectively and thoughtfully address the ethical issues that are concerned here.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 2 more minutes. Is that possible?

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. BROWN). Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, what may not have been clear to us initially--and it should be clear now--it just doesn't make sense to allow in vitro fertilization to create millions of embryos that will never become human beings and then prohibit science from using them to cure sick people and relieve human suffering but to simply discard those embryos.

Valuing the mysteries and sacredness of human life is something all of us should do. It underlies every religion on this planet. Stem cell advocates are no different. Here in the Senate and across this country, Americans are approaching an ethical consensus which bans human cloning, which is thoughtful about the use of embryos that would be discarded, and which respects life and also respects that life by protecting stem cell research.

We don't have the luxury of patience, not when 100 million Americans suffer from illnesses that might one day be cured with stem cell therapy, not when more than 3,000 Americans die from diseases every day that one day may be made treatable by stem cell research.

If we can get 67 votes out of 100 Senators--4 more than we had last summer--then we can send the President a veto-proof message. Last summer, the Senate sent the administration a strong message by passing a bill that would responsibly fund this research, and the American people showed their agreement last November when they sent an even larger majority back to Washington to vote in greater numbers to support lifesaving scientific research. Sixty-three votes are not enough. We hope we receive more today so that we can open the doors to this promising future.


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