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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to introduce the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act of 2010 on behalf of Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein, and myself.

Some 21 days ago, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, in an opinion by Chief Judge Lamberth, the expenditures made by the National Institutes of Health for embryonic stem cell research under an Executive order issued by President Obama on March 9, 2009, was overturned under a declaration that the Executive order violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment enacted by Congress.

Even though on its face it is pretty clear-cut that the embryonic stem cell research was not precluded by that amendment, that has had the effect of tying up very important ongoing research. For example, some $546 million has already been spent on human embryonic stem cell research and some very noteworthy progress has been made. For example, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a clinical trial for patients with spinal cord injury, and human embryonic stem cell research has been successfully used to develop new therapeutic drugs for a number of diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and muscular dystrophy, and those are just a couple of the illustrations.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has stayed the lower court's order until September 20, but there is very substantial doubt as what the future will be. Meanwhile, although the district court order has been stayed, there is great uncertainty in the research community as to what will happen. This research is vital for moving against the maladies of our society.

The background on this issue is that in November of 1998, the disclosure was made about the potential for embryonic stem cell research. At the time I chaired the appropriations subcommittee which funded Health and Human Services. It seemed to me that was a tremendous opportunity and I scheduled a hearing within a few days, held on December 2 of 1998. Since that time, there have been some 20 hearings.

As we all know, the funding for the National Institutes of Health has had a tremendous increase. When I joined the committee after my election in 1980, the funding was $3.6 billion. When I became chairman of the committee in the mid-1990s, the funding was $12 billion. With the concurrence of the then-ranking member, Senator Harkin, we took the lead in increasing funding from some $12 billion to $30 billion. Regrettably, with budget constraints, the funding did not keep pace, starting in the year 2003. But in the stimulus package there was an additional $10 billion added which has reawakened a whole generation of research scientists, with that $10 billion providing funding for some 15,000 grants.

The results for health have been really overwhelming. Here are a few illustrations. In the 1950s, cardiovascular disease caused half of the United States deaths. Today, the rate for coronary heart disease is more than 60 percent lower. Over the past 25 years, the 5-year survival rate for prostate cancer has increased from 69 percent to almost 99 percent for diagnosed patients. For childhood cancers, the 5-year survival rate has improved markedly over the past 3 decades, from less than 50 percent before the 1970s to 80 percent today. Those are only illustrative statistics. The opportunities for embryonic stem cell research are overwhelming.

The Specter-Harkin bill was passed by the Senate in 2006 by a vote of 63 to 37, a very healthy margin for an issue which has raised some controversy. The House of Representatives passed the legislation but regrettably President Bush vetoed it in 2006, and the effort to override the veto in the House failed. There was a vote of 235 to 193, short of the two-thirds necessary to override the veto. But that shows enormous Congressional support.

Then President Obama issued the Executive order that Federal funds could be used on embryonic stem cell research on lines where the embryo had been donated. This is in line with the policy adopted by President Bush in August of 2001, when he allowed the use of quite a number of stem cell lines where the embryos had been donated. Later it was found there were only 21 lines, and those were insufficient, which has led to the effort for legislation and then led to President Obama's Executive order. The fact is, there are some 400,000 of these embryos which are frozen and which will ultimately be discarded. So it is use them for medical research to save lives or throw them away. Some have contended that we are destroying lives but the reality is they will not be utilized.

In response to the issue as to whether there might be adoption of these embryos, the subcommittee took the lead in appropriating substantial funds, which is more than $4 million a year, actually $4.2 million, but relatively few people have come forward for its use on adopting the embryos to turn them into life. If these embryos could be turned into human life I would not under any circumstance advocate scientific research on these embryos--if they could produce life. But they cannot. The facts are plain. The adoption line has been in effect now since 2002. Only a few hundred have been adopted. President Bush invited the ``snowflake'' children to the White House during his tenure, about 150 of them.

Now we have a situation where the court has intervened, even though more than a year and a half had elapsed since President Obama issued the Executive order, a clear indication of congressional intent not to deal with it or not to overturn it. I think it is a fair legal analysis that the order issued by the district court is not a sound order. Some indication of that is found in the fact that the circuit court stayed the order--not conclusive, but when they stay an order it looks as though they are not favorably inclined toward it. But who knows what the circuit court will do? Who knows what the Supreme Court of the United States, with their ideological bent, would do? This has become a theological issue in part, very emotional, with people arguing that it is akin to abortion. Of course it is nowhere near that kind.

It seems to me Congress ought to act. That is why on the first order of business after we convened here this afternoon, our first day back and our first hour in the Senate session, I am introducing this legislation. I have discussed it with sponsors on the House side and I think we are in a position to move rapidly. Certainly the previous vote of 63 to 37 in 2006 shows substantial support in this body, and the 235-to-193 vote to override President Bush's veto shows the same in the House of Representatives. I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort so this important scientific research may be continued.

I ask unanimous consent that the full text of my printed statement be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record,


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