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Stem Cell Research


Location: Washington, DC

Stem Cell Research

SEN. BROWNBACK: Thank you all for joining us today. We've got a beautiful story to tell, and we want to see the -- and we want you to see the faces of the story.

The young girls I just walked in with were three snowflake babies, all were adopted out of IBF clinics, all are beautiful clinics. And they'll get to tell their stories here today, and I'll introduce them as well.

And then, we also have a couple of success stories using cord blood stem cells. No ethical issues, no ethical problems. The only thing we have that cures; I should say, rather, treatments. These are in the treatment stage. They're being reviewed, they're being studied by scientists, by the FDA and being used around the world. That's 72 to nothing; we have 72 different clinical human trials using adult stem cells cord blood. We have zero using embryonic stem cell research.

We have spent $500 million, nearly half a billion dollars, over the last five years funding embryonic in animals and humans, and we've got -- we have zero human clinical applications or human applications at all. I -- if we had used that half a billion dollars the last five years to fund adult stem cell research or cord blood research, we would have many more treatments. We would have more people probably alive today had that half a billion dollars been used in the adult stem cell and the cord blood area.

C.S. Lewis wrote about 60 years ago, "If man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be."

And what we're talking about in this debate is the use of embryos, young humans, as raw material -- raw material in research, raw material to exploit raw material.

It is unnecessary to do. We have ethical routes to create pluripotent -- as the term is -- cells that can grow into many other types of cells. We have sources -- adult stem cell sources, cord blood sources to do this with as well. We do not need to treat humans as raw material.

It is immoral to destroy the youngest of human lives for research purposes. We don't need to do it. It is immoral for us to do it. It is an age-old human debate whether you allow the stronger to take advantage of the weaker. We have always regretted doing it in the past; we will regret this, too. We don't need to do it. It's immoral. We have done this in human history, and we've always regretted it. We shouldn't do it now.

We will have votes in the Senate this week on three bills. I would urge that we pass the ban on fetal farming so that we don't grow young humans for spare part purposes. I would support as well that we look for alternative sources of pluripotent cells. And I would urge my colleagues to vote against the use of federal taxpayer dollars for destruction of young human life, which is the embryonic stem cell expansion bill.

I want to show one chart, and then I want to introduce the individuals to you. If we could get this chart up here -- I think it's kind of an interesting one that we've got over here. (To staff) Bring it on up a little bit closer, if you don't mind, John.

It's a bald eagle egg. If you destroy that egg, under the Endangered Species Act, you can face a fine of up to half a million dollars and two years in prison for destroying a bald eagle egg.

Now, a guy, when I was first campaigning for office, I was in Chanute, Kansas, and he asked me a simple question I didn't have a good answer for. He said, "Why do you fine us for doing that, and yet it's totally legal, and even taxpayer dollars are used to destroy a human at the same phase of life?" And I didn't have a good answer for him of why that we would destroy. And yet, we know just by -- in our heart, if you destroy that egg, you don't get the eagle. If you destroy the human embryo, you don't get the human. And that's the case of what we're talking about here today.

Let's not destroy these young human embryos, let's have them adopted. Let's have them standing here in front of us, as you're going to talk with today.

Thanks, John.

Let me introduce some of these young children to you. They are wonderful children. We're going to start with the oldest snowflake. Hannah Stragee (sp). Hannah is seven. And I want her to come up with her parents and tell you just a brief little bit about her story.


MARLENE STRAGEE (sp): Hi, I'm Marlene Stragee (sp), and this is my daughter, Hannah, and she's seven and a half. And I actually -- we actually adopted her -- I was actually eight months pregnant with Hannah when the scientists first discovered how to extract a stem cell from the embryo. So we always tell Hannah that God's plan was well under way, and that was the plan of adoption and not destruction. And that she's adopted into our family, and that mommy and daddy and her are all adopted into God's family because of what Christ did on the cross.

So adoption is just a great thing.

A couple of things I brought. This book by Dr. Seuss is "Horton Hears a Who!" It's fast-becoming -- it has become in the last few months -- we just started reading it -- Hannah's favorite book.

And the recurring theme in this book is:

HANNAH STRAGEE (sp): A person's a person no matter how small.

MARLENE STRAGEE (sp): And if you get a chance, this book was written in 1954, but let me tell you, this book really talks about this whole debate.

The other thing that we brought -- last year we had an opportunity to go to the House before the vote and visit congressmen, and we also went to the White House. When we got back, Hannah wanted to know what this was all about, and so we discussed embryonic stem cell research with her. And she says, "Mommy, you don't do experiments on babies. You don't kill babies." So she got mad and she decided to draw her own posters. So she just asked me to spell some words, but the rest of this is from her.

I don't know if you can see this, but she put, "We're kids," and she put "I love you" to the snowflakes, followed by "XOXO." Then she says, "Mommy, I drew a picture of three embryos. I drew three circles and I put faces on them." She said, "The first one is little me -- is me, and it's a little girl, and I'm happy -- I have a happy face, and I'm happy that I was adopted. The second one has a sad face, and he's sad because he's still waiting for a mommy and daddy to get him. And the third one has a straight line for his face. And he's saying, `Hmm, are you going to kill me?'"

In that, she captured this whole debate on one poster, because these children in their embryonic stage of development are going down three tracks. They're either going to be adopted, they're still waiting for the original parents to go back and get them or be placed for adoption, or they're going to be killed.

Thank you.

SEN. BROWNBACK: Next we have Zara Johnson -- Zara like "Sara," only with a "Z" -- and her parents here.

STEVE JOHNSON: Hi, my name's Steve Johnson, and this is my wife, Kate, and our daughter, Zara.

And we live in Exeter Township in Pennsylvania, near Reading, Pennsylvania. And this is Zara, spelled Z-A-R-A, who just celebrated her fourth birthday.

About a year ago, we were in Washington, D.C., at a press conference, when -- the day the House voted on H.R. 810. And on the way home -- a local reporter had found out that we were here, and through -- made a couple of phone calls and got us on our cell phone while we were driving back to Washington, D.C. (sic), and we did an interview while we were driving. The next day in the newspaper, the headline -- or the title for our article was, "Exeter Township Couple On The Road Against Stem Cell Research."

I'm a pariah in public everywhere I go. Believe me, I am not against stem cell research. I'm a paraplegic as a result of a bicycle accident 13 years ago. I have no sensation or voluntary movement below my chest. I regularly deal with issues such as pain, fatigue, skin breakdown. I have difficulty acquiring life insurance -- very limited acceptability -- and I know far more about urinary and bowel function than any layman should ever want to. (Soft laughter.) And believe me, I do ache for a cure for paralysis, but not if that cure requires the destruction of an embryo.

That is because my little girl who I love very much used to be a frozen embryo. She and four siblings were stored in a lab, frozen, waiting to be adopted. Their genetic parents knew that they were human and deserved a chance at a full life, and they allowed Kate (sp) and I to adopt those embryos.

One of the five embryos survived the fall and the transfer process. Was there any way to know ahead of time which embryo might live? No. There is no way of going. So we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the embryos and assume that each one is a person who could come to term. Let's save these human embryos for adoption so that childless parents to be, like Kate and I once were, can have the joy of holding a child in their arms.

If we look around this room -- and seriously take just a second; take a look at someone else for a moment please -- look around this room. Congressman Castle, at a press conference about four days before the vote last May, he held up a pad of paper, and he took a pen and he put a dot on that pad of paper. And he said what we're talking about this dot; it's just a dot. There's this big debate about a dot. But that dot is all of us. It was our first baby picture. We were all a dot at one time. We were all an embryo at one time.

Is there anyone here -- and we have our bad days -- but is there anyone here who really wishes that they never lived? Because embryos are human, and they need to be given a chance to live.

We are strong, and even if we're disabled, we're still strong. And we have a responsibility and the right to protect these embryos.

Senate Bill 471 will kill embryos and allegedly for my benefit. How many human embryos should be destroyed for my potential cure? Kate and I and Zara agree that that number is zero. Would I kill my daughter so I could walk again? Should I have an incremental benefit at the expense of someone else's son or daughter? Of course not. The answer is no.

I am pro stem cell research, the kind of research that works -- adult stem cell research. That is where my cure comes from, will come from.

So the next time that you hear or read or think that frozen embryos are just tiny specks on a piece of paper, or just little cells that had no other purpose other than research, please think again. Think about these snowflake children, and think about my daughter, Zara.

Thank you.

SEN. BROWNBACK: Next we'll hear from Alicia Lancaster (sp) and her mother.

MARIA LANCASTER (sp): Actually, I'm Maria Lancaster (sp), and this is my daughter, Alicia (sp). She'll be three in September. And I just would like to share with you a little bit of my personal story.

I was -- my husband I struggle with fertility for a number of years, and pretty much the doctors told us that we were done. And so in my mid-40s, by a complete surprise I became pregnant, and my husband and I were completely and totally delighted. However, that pregnancy failed and we were devastated because we thought well, this was going to be, you know, our miracle child.

Anyway, my husband heard on the radio -- actually it was Marlene (Stragee 's) story? Dr. Dobson (sp) interviewed her. And my husband heard the story on the radio. And he came home and he said, "You know, I think we should call this adoption agency." We did. My daughter has brought me more joy, more hope and more life than I ever thought would be humanly possible. I'm so grateful for embryo adoption, because I really wanted to have my own child. I had her when I was almost 48 years old, and she was my first child. We are eternally grateful to everyone, the doctors that helped us work with the adoption agency so everything could be taken care of correctly.

And my real hope today is that more people will know, who are struggling with infertility, that embryo adoption is a viable thing, and that these embryos that were created for life can be given for life, and that the intended purpose for embryos was the treatment of infertility, and it is the perfect treatment for infertility. And a person doesn't have to be blood-typed or cross-typed or anything like that.

An embryo can go in any one woman's womb who's capable of carrying a child, so the possibilities are limitless for infertile couples with embryo adoption.

And I just want to say one final thing. Every life is a life. But that life, when it's born, is not the end in and of itself, the birth, but the destiny of that person's life. And all that that person will do, say, and contribute to society -- that destiny is within that embryo in the petri dish at that time. The destiny is already wrapped up in those few cells.

My daughter was flown out FedEx from the east coast to the west coast, where I live, believe it or not. She had been in the freezer four years. And so what more could you ask for? What a better story.

And I just want to thank you for listening.

SEN. BROWNBACK: That's great. That's an historic delivery; more, it's FedEx that delivers. (Soft laughter.)

We now have three patients that have been treated with stem cells, either cord blood or adult stem cells, and I believe our three patients today are all cord blood-treated patients.

The first one I want you to meet is a remarkable -- I think, miraculous situation in Ryan Schneider (sp). Cord blood treatment -- own cord blood -- a mother that fought through a system that fought against her for this treatment -- cerebral palsy, and showing no signs of it today, and I think this is just a remarkable story.

So please come on out.

MS. SCHNEIDER (sp): Okay. (Laughs.)

Hi. My name is Mary Schneider (sp). This is my son, Ryan Schneider (sp). A year ago actually this week he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The following morning, I realized that -- or remembered that I had banked his stem cells at birth, and for me it was a two plus two moment. I thought, "Okay, the doctor said, 'brain injury.' I've got his stem cells. Let's see what we can do."

So I started making phone calls to every researcher in the country, every doctor I could think of, anywhere on the Internet that I thought I could find some help. It took about two weeks and a lot of people saying, "No, I won't do the infusion." The infusion itself takes about 20 minutes for the cells to drip in in an I.V. in the back of the hand, with a two-hour saline push afterwards. It's a very simple, safe procedure and the risks are very, very low because of the fact that it's his own stem cells.

I found a doctor at Duke University, Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, who agreed to help. He received his infusion in October, on the 11th. By Christmas, his speech, where he had only about 35 or 40 words before that, had increased so rapidly that I couldn't keep up with it, and neither could his therapist. The mobility in his hands and his arms, which were mostly in fists and retracted towards his body, had returned to normal. His greatest joy at this point is ratting out his eight-year-old sister. (Laughter.) And that's ours, too. We like to see that happen.

The only situation that we're running into is that we need more doctors to stick their necks out a little bit, help these kids with such a very mild, non-invasive treatment that could help them. The problem is, at this point they don't know how to track the cells. We need those doctors in research to find out how to track these cells so we can have more peer reviews and get this treatment on track so the parents aren't saddled -- if they do find a doctor to help them -- saddled with a huge expense, because insurance companies don't pay for such treatments unless there is proof.

I thank you for your time today.

SEN. BROWNBACK: Next I want Steven Sprague (sp) to come up. He's an adult treated with cord blood treatment for a chronic leukemia situation. Steven?

STEVEN SPRAGUE (sp): Good afternoon, folks. I can't tell you how a privilege it is to be the old man of this group. My story starts more than 10 years ago, with a diagnosis of leukemia. You know, middle-aged, going along okay, and all of a sudden someone tells you you have a very serious blood disease. Two years after that, I was in the final stages of this, where I needed to have a bone marrow transplant. Only child, no unrelated donors in the marrow registries. They sent me home to get my affairs in order.

Right place right time for me. The hospital was planning to do one of the very first clinical trials using cord blood stem cells for a big adult. Never been done before. And there was a mother back in 1997 who had decided to do what mothers weren't doing in those days, and that was to donate her little girl's cord blood to a public cord blood bank in New York City.

The rest is history. Here I am, a life restored because of a doctor who has faith in thinking outside of the transplant box and a stem cell application that now has proven to be -- have the ability to restore life for leukemia.

You know, in my day, I was one of a handful, and now, 10-11 years later, look how far we've come. People are talking about stem cells. And I would suggest to you and to my fellow patients that if we ever want to keep the promises that have been made to the patient community about cures for dreaded diseases, adult stem cells is one way to get you there quicker. It shouldn't be the second choice. It shouldn't be an afterthought. It should be what's working now, should come to the top of this list, and with some time and energy and resources, you're going to see a lot more ability to cure diseases with adult stem cells than ever before.

They never thought these stem cells had the ability to do what they're doing. They are learning a lot of things, and we've come so far and there's so far left to go. And you know, patients need to understand that there is hope. They should never give up that hope. And people like us come to tell and talk to people so that they will understand. Because if they look for a cure and look for people who know how to treat their diseases with adult stem cells, they are likely to have the same outcomes as you're seeing up here on the stage.


SEN. BROWNBACK: A final patient is Abby Tell (sp). Abby had a -- brain damage at birth. Her mother, Cathy (sp), is here, saved the cord blood -- again, that's another message that I hope that people can receive here is to save the cord blood -- and has been treated with her own cord blood.

So Abby and Cathy (sp).

CATHY ALLEN (SP): Hi. I'm Cathy Allen (sp). This is my daughter, Abby. She is 22 months old, and she is the youngest of five. I just -- she was born 10 days late. She aspirated meconium at birth. From that, she got an anoxic brain injury; she lost oxygen to her brain. When we -- we had to have the MRI done about three months, and from that, they realized that she had brain damage, moderate to severe brain damage in three out of the four lobes of her brain.

So at that point, I said, okay, I stored her cord blood, what can we do, can't we do anything? And they said no, there's nothing you can do.

So, luckily, I got an educational e-mail from Cord Blood Registry where we store it, telling us about new procedures, things that, you know, possibly could work. Again, it's not a cure, it's just hope for parents like me who the big neurologists tell you: Nothing you can do.

Well, they didn't know that I'm very hard-headed. And so we looked into everything, and we were told we'd have to leave the country. So we just researched, researched. I looked all over the -- we called hospitals in California. We called NIH Mayo Clinic. I said, please do a case study, I said here's my daughter's cord blood; I'll sign a waiver, we'll pay for it, you know, please, we just don't want to leave the country. And he said, "No, can't do it. If she had cancer, we could do it. But we can't do it, there's no protocol." Which seems just such a waste.

So I literally prayed one night, and I said, "God, please help me, I can't go to a foreign country. You know, I want to be able to know that people are going to be careful with my daughter, and I don't want to risk her life at all."

So we found Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg (sp) and we asked her if she would mind doing it, and she said as long as we didn't mind coming to Duke. And I said, you know, we'll absolutely come. She had her first treatment at five months. Before we went there -- this was February of 2005 -- I asked her -- we met with our neurologist and I told her what we were going to do, and basically she said that's not going to help her. So again, hard-headed, we ignored her. We went down. Two weeks later, February 15th, she got the first infusion. What they said is at six months she would start having seizures. So we had this done. And Abby (sp) before was somewhat like Stevie Wonder -- left to right, never making eye contact with anyone, ever, for five months of her life. Two weeks after we came back from Duke, she looked up at me and smiled for the first time ever. I'm sorry. We had another treatment in November, last November. Since then, she's just been doing wonderfully. She's crazy. To walk her, you really need to get out of the way. She runs everywhere. And just a couple of months ago, she started sitting up. Where, you know, you're sitting up, you have to prop her, and now she just started to reach out a couple of months ago.

And we read books with her sisters and brothers every night. And I would always take her hands and touch the books, even though she wasn't getting it.

So then I did this a couple months ago as we were reading, and she just lit up. Then you open the pages and she was just squealing like she had never seen it before.

So I feel like it's working. There's no proof. I know in my heart it's working. She is just such a pleasure, such a dream, such a wonderful baby and such a blessing in our lives.

So I just urge anyone who's pregnant to either store your cord blood privately or just donate it. You know, we can use that for testing. And also, we do need funding for the MRIs so it can track the stem cells so they can see where they go.

But like I said, in my heart I know it's working. But anyway, it just gave us hope. So I'll just say thank you very much.

SEN. BROWNBACK: Thank you, Cathy and Abby (sp).

The point I'm making here with that, and I'd like to continue to reiterate to you, is that half a billion dollars we've invested in the embryonic field and we haven't gotten results. We need more funding in the adult and cord blood area, where we're getting early treatments, good indicators, and in human trials. And we can do that.

I want to thank the patients and the advocates that were here. I'd be -- try to attempt to answer any questions that you might have at this time.

Q Senator, has the president assured you recently -- (off mike) -- that he will veto H.R. 810?

SEN. BROWNBACK: He has not stated anything directly to me within the last week or two. He's previously made statements. People around the president made statements. But he's not stated anything directly to me.

Q You're confident he would veto?

SEN. BROWNBACK: I believe he would. He's been a clear man of his word. When he staked this position in 2001, is when he staked the position we would do with taxpayer money embryonic stem cell research on those lines where the life-and-death decision was already made. He has held to that, and we've put in about half a billion dollars since then. But he has not been willing to expand that and to thus use taxpayer dollars to kill young human life. And I believe he's going to stand by that position.


Q (Off mike) -- Post poll today supporting stem cell embryonic research. How do you think this is going to affect the Republicans in mid-term elections?

SEN. BROWNBACK: You know, part of it depends on how you cover this story.

If the public is told you can do this research and we'll get cures using adult and cord blood, that it is not necessary to destroy embryonic stem cells, I think the numbers change dramatically because if you ask people, they want to respect, and do respect human life. So a lot of this is how you cover the story is how it will play out.

That's your decision. Mine here is to say you have young human life that's in a frozen state that can be brought out, and as you're seeing here, live according to anybody's definition of human life, and bring great joy to this planet and to people.

Q (Off mike) -- embryos that are -- might be discarded. So what is your answer for that, then? (Off mike.)

SEN. BROWNBACK: Well, first I would hope more people would recognize there is an adoption option, which I don't know that a lot of people do recognize, and that there are highly qualified families who want to adopt these frozen embryos, and more coming, because they have the same problem that the people that developed the frozen embryo themselves have, they have a fertility issue, and they want to do this. So my hope would be, number one, that.

Number two, since when do we look at human life to the point that we would taxpayer dollars to destroy human life, innocent human life? And that's what we're talking about here. There is no federal prohibition against embryonic stem cell research -- state funding, local funding. What we're talking about here is the taxpayer use -- use of taxpayer dollars for embryonic stem cell research. And I think most people would look at that and say, if we can go another route, for sure; but particularly, should we destroy young human life and use taxpayer dollars to do it?

Q But don't you think that research would be a better option than -- (off mike)?

SEN. BROWNBACK: You know, I've wrestled with that, and people -- we're going to -- people on death row and those people are going to be killed, and is it a better option for us to research on them, then, because they're going to be discarded, or at least some people would say, "Well, harvest their organs. You could save lives doing that." And yet, isn't there something in your heart that says that's naturally abhorrent, that's an abhorrent thought to do that? And I think we have to look at life as its continuum that it is. You destroy the embryo, you don't get the person. You harvest it for pieces, you destroy the person. The same with the -- somebody that's on death row or somebody that's in this frozen embryo state -- they don't get to live.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. BROWNBACK: Yeah. The question is, should we restrict IBF clinics on the number of embryos that can be stored? And I'm not going to broach that today. I think that's something that, you know, people may want to look at, but I'm not going broach that today.

Q Senator Brownback, can you talk about the vote on 810? How many Republicans or how many of your colleagues do you think will vote against it? And also, when you talk about the way we cover the story, what about your own colleagues who are on the other side of this issue? I mean, why are Republicans, in your view, spilt on this? Do you think they're just not hearing your side of the science?

SEN. BROWNBACK: You know, let me start with the second part of that question, if I could.

Number one, I don't think anybody has a bad heart in this. Everybody wants to cure people -- myself, people on the other side of the aisle on this particular issue. Everybody has a good heart. They want to cure people. Some people don't have the ethical issue of saying that this is young human life. They either don't believe it's young human life, or they believe it's human life, but it doesn't -- it isn't recognizable as human life yet, or they don't want to recognize it as human life at this point in time. And then, we ignore the biggest debate we've had going on -- probably the biggest debate we've had going on in this society for a long time -- of when does life begin, biologically when does life begin.

So I don't know why other people have decided different ways. I don't give anybody to a bad heart in this. I think everybody's wanting to find cures.

The actual vote total, I don't know what it is today. They're -- I've seen different numbers, but they're still -- the counts that I've seen a fair group of people undecided on the 810 -- H.R. 810.

Q Senator, can you speak to the issue of the veto override? Are you confident it won't happen in the House here, but that -- (off mike) -- the votes over here at the Senate, where some might be willing to take a political -- (off mike)?

SEN. BROWNBACK: Yes, and I -- I can't speak for others' motives on it. Because of how this bill passed in the House without a sufficient number for a veto override, I think there are those that speculate the bill will not come back in front of the Senate even if it is passed. But I tend to think most people on an issue like this, it's a visceral issue, you know where you are on this type of an issue, that people don't tend to cut too much back and forth.

That may be going on, but I can't speak to people's motives.

Q (Off mike) -- 67 votes here in the Senate. Is that indicative of a veto override?

SEN. BROWNBACK: Of an effort to do a veto override? I don't know if the leader would bring it back up. If it doesn't hit the veto override in the House, there would be no reason to bring it up in the Senate. And I believe it's going to go to the House first, unless things change dramatically of what people have decided. So there really would be no reason for it to come back here.

Thank you all very much for joining us today.

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