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Hearing of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing - Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research


Location: Washington, DC

"Good morning. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will now come to order.

"This is the 21st hearing that this subcommittee has held on human embryonic stem cells, starting back in December 1998, one month after Dr. Jamie Thomson of the University of Wisconsin announced that he had isolated them for the first time.

"It's a shame that we have to revisit this issue under the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

"When President Obama lifted the Bush administration's restrictions on stem cell research a year and a half ago, most of us thought this fight was finally over. At last, we thought, there was a new approach to scientific research in this country -- one that was dictated not by politics, but by the hope for cures.

"At last, we thought, our brightest young minds could enter this field without worrying that they'd go to the lab one day and find the doors ordered shut by someone in Washington, D.C.

"At last, we thought, we could begin to realize the promise of embryonic stem cell research.

"And we were on track to do that. The NIH instituted new guidelines to ensure that this research would be conducted ethically and responsibly. The number of stem cell lines eligible for federally funded research rose from 21 under President Bush to its current total of 75. And the scientific community has responded, applying for and receiving NIH grants that are moving this research forward in exciting ways.

"At the same time, of course, NIH continued to fund research on adult stem cells, on induced pluripotent cells, and numerous other approaches to regenerative medicine that could lead to treatments and cures.

"No one has ever claimed that embryonic stem cells are a silver bullet. But they have special properties that no other cells can match, and that's why they offer so much hope to people who are suffering. That's why so many scientists are excited to have access to these stem cell lines and to see what they can learn from them.

"Then, out of the blue, came the preliminary injunction from District Judge Royce Lamberth. That action, once again, has placed a cloud of uncertainty over this entire scientific field.

"Thanks to a temporary stay by the D.C. Circuit Court, human embryonic stem cell research is -- for the time being, anyway -- progressing just as it was before Judge Lamberth's ruling. But how long that will last is anyone's guess.

"I can say this: We've come too far to give up now. If we don't win this battle in the courts, we'll take it up in Congress. This research must continue. The politicians and activist judges who oppose it need to respect the views of the overwhelming majority of the American people, who want this research to go forward.

"People across America -- and I am one of them -- have too many loved ones and friends who have died from ALS … from Parkinson's … from spinal-cord injuries.

"I remember Christopher Reeve testifying before this subcommittee several years ago. I wish we had him back today. I remember Rob Borsellino, a newspaperman from Iowa. He had ALS. He also testified before this subcommittee. I wish we had him back too.

"I don't know for sure if embryonic stem cell research will ever save people like Christopher Reeve or Rob Borsellino. No one does. But one day, it might. And as long as there's a reasonable chance that this research could help ease human suffering, we have the moral responsibility to pursue it.

"The purpose of today's hearing is to examine the promise of the human embryonic stem cell research. We will look at the science. We will not re-litigate the ongoing court case. None of the witnesses is prepared to discuss the legal arguments for or against the injunction. So I ask Members of the subcommittee to refrain from asking them questions that are not in their area of expertise. And if the witnesses receive such questions, they should not feel required to answer them."

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