PALLONE STATEMENT AT HEALTH HEARING ON STEM CELL SCIENCE
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, gave the following opening statement this morning at a subcommittee hearing entitled: "Stem Cell Science: The Foundation for Future Cures."
"Good morning. Today the Subcommittee is meeting to hear about stem cell science and the potential it holds to develop new treatments, therapies and cures for a myriad of diseases, conditions and disabilities that inflict so many American lives.
"Few areas of scientific inquiry hold the same level of promise to revolutionize the practice of medicine. Stem cells offer the possibility of replacing damaged or diseased cells inside the body with healthy ones. They could make it possible to strengthen failing heart muscle, regenerate severed spinal cord nerves, replace damaged brain cells and cure many other currently incurable disorders.
"Through my service on this Subcommittee, I have had the opportunity to meet and hear from people from communities across the country. They have come to share their stories, or the stories of their loved ones.
"A young child with diabetes who requires daily medical attention; an adult who has left her job to care for a father who's mind has been ravaged by the effects of Alzheimer's disease; a husband who watched his wife's motor function deteriorate with the onset of Parkinson's disease. Their stories vary tremendously and range from the heartbreaking to the harrowing. Yet, they all share one common theme and that is a message of hope. Hope, that some day, stem cell research will unlock a door and reveal a new discovery that will cure them of their ailments.
"It is our obligation as legislators to enact a federal policy that will help advance all types of stem cell research and provide the opportunity for such discoveries to take place. Unfortunately, the current federal policy on stem cell research is falling short of that goal.
"The President's 2001 Executive Order limits the use of federal funds for research on a few lines of stem cells that had already been harvested. At the time, he said that stem cell research 'offered great promise.' Almost seven years later, it is clear to me that the president's policy has placed arbitrary constraints on stem cell research and has put patients in great peril.
"Since the President issued his Executive Order we have undoubtedly lost valuable time and resources that could have been devoted to advancing stem cell research. While there have been important advancements in certain fields, such as stem cells harvested from cord blood and adult stem cells, the scientific community appears to be in agreement that it is embryonic stem cell research that holds the greatest promise for the development of new cures and treatments.
"Unfortunately, the Administration's current policy on embryonic stem cell research has tied the hands of researchers, impeding scientific progress and inhibiting America's ability to compete with scientists around the world.
"Thankfully, the private sector and individual States have decided to forge ahead, paving the way without any federal funding. In 2005 my home state of New Jersey became the first state to provide for the public funding of embryonic stem cell research. Since then, construction has begun on a new state-of-the-art facility that will house the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey, a joint initiative undertaken by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. I want to welcome Dr. Bertino, the interim director of the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey, who will be testifying on the second panel today.
"New Jersey is not the only state taking the lead. A number of other states have either enacted their own measures that would fund various forms of stem cell research, or have bills pending before their legislatures. While I am thankful for these efforts, I believe that in order to truly propel the advancement of stem cell research we need a federal policy that builds upon the advancements being funded in the private sector and at the State level.
"Last year, the House and Senate passed such a policy with overwhelming bi-partisan majorities. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, sponsored by my friend and colleague from Colorado, Ms. DeGette, would have allowed federal funding for stem cell research to be conducted on embryos that would otherwise have been discarded from fertility clinics and with the consent of the embryos' donors. Unfortunately, this commonsense policy was met swiftly with the President's veto pen the very first of his presidency.
"I know this is a controversial issue for many Americans, including many members who serve on this Subcommittee with me. I can respect that. However, I still have trouble understanding the opposition that exists to such a common sense approach that would allow for the progression of stem cell science in what I view as a careful, ethical and respectful fashion.
"The fact is that Americans want stem cell science to advance. An overwhelming majority of Americans support embryonic stem cell research and their representatives in this Congress do so as well. They want us as legislators to do everything we can to help unlock the potential of embryonic stem cells in the quickest fashion possible and bring new life-saving therapies to the patients who need them.
"With millions of Americans dying each year from diseases that might be cured by stem cell therapies, we cannot wait any longer to act. The time has come to enact a new federal policy that does not place arbitrary restrictions on scientific progress. Thank you. I now recognize Ranking Member Deal for five minutes for his opening statement."