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Stem Cell Research

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KENNEDY. Now, to get back to my earlier comment about stem cell research-and I see a number of my colleagues on the floor who will address this issue as well-last evening I noted and saw my good friend the majority leader take the Senate floor to defend the indefensible, President Bush's stem cell policy. Here is what the majority leader said: Stem cell research shows great promise. It shows great promise, and the President's policy harnesses that promise and it also strikes a balance with the values of our people.

The fact is that the President's position does not strike a balance. It does not harness the promise of stem cell research. In fact, it is an attempt to have it both ways. It is an attempt to satisfy the group of the President's supporters who oppose stem cell research on religious grounds while pretending to the vast majority of Americans who support such research that he is really behind it. No amount of rhetoric can hide the fact that the biggest obstacle to finding cures for paralysis or Parkinson's disease or juvenile diabetes or heart disease through use of embryonic stem cell is President Bush.

President Bush is fond of claiming that he is the first President to approve funds for stem cell research. That sounds good, but it is not true. Here is the actual record: For a number of years, the Congressional Appropriations Act had carried a prohibition against using Federal funds for research that destroyed an embryo. Now that we better understand the importance of embryonic stem cell research, a prohibition would never pass today. President Clinton had asked a special committee at NIH to reexamine this policy, and they concluded that the use of embryos for research was ethical and scientifically important.

In January of 1999, the HHS General Counsel concluded that despite the appropriations bill language, NIH money could be used to support research on cell lines derived from embryos as long as NIH did not pay for the destruction of embryos. Following this decision, NIH set up a special committee to review grant applications for such research. In April of 2001, the new Bush administration suspended the committee and barred NIH from awarding any funds for embryo research.

In August 2001, President Bush announced the policy that has effectively slowed stem cell research to a crawl. Under his policy, only stem cell lines that had been created prior to 8 p.m., August 9, 2001, would be available for funding with Federal money. Virtually every scientist involved in the field said this policy was hopelessly restrictive, but President Bush did not listen.

The experience of Professor Douglas Melton at Harvard, a distinguished medical researcher, illustrates the folly of the Bush restrictions. Professor Melton has created 17 stem cell lines that meet all of the ethical guidelines laid down at NIH, but his stem cell lines were created after the date in the President's Executive order. He receives no Federal funding for his work. He has had to create a whole separate lab to conduct his research because his regular lab had received Federal funds. For this dedicated researcher, the barriers created by President Bush's policy in lost time and denied resources and, most of all, in potential missed opportunities for patients have been tragic.

The fact is that some of our most distinguished scientists are moving abroad to do their research. The last thing we need is a reverse brain-drain.

When President Bush announced his policy, he claimed that more than 60 stem cell lines would be available. At the time, experts said that the President was simply wrong, and he was wrong, but he has not changed his policy. The reality is that only 22 cell lines can actually be used by scientists. The rest have failed to develop into usable lines. Even the few lines that NIH will fund are all contaminated with mouse cells. Because of the danger of using these contaminated lines, FDA rules make it almost impossible to use any of these lines to develop or test cures in human beings.

Worse yet, every single one of those lines comes with a restrictive contract known as a materials transfer agreement that actually prohibits doctors from using them in patients. Let me make sure my colleagues understand this. NIH researchers are legally barred from using any of the stem cell lines available to them to help treat patients. Do not just take my word for it; go look it up. All the restrictions are laid out in black and white on the NIH stem cell Web site.

Most people would look at the facts that have come out since George Bush laid down his policy and admit they made a mistake and then make a change. No shame in that. But will George Bush admit he made a mistake, admit that it is time for a change? Oh, no, he is never wrong. He has never made a mistake. Sound familiar?

The reality is that the American people know the Bush policy is denying help and hope to millions of American patients and their families. The majority of the Senate knows it, too. Fifty-eight Senators sent a letter to President Bush to reverse this disastrous policy before more precious time is lost in the battle against diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, spinal injury, and more. That letter was signed by 14 Republicans, including prominent pro-life conservatives such as ORRIN HATCH, TRENT LOTT, TED STEVENS, KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, and GORDON SMITH. These pro-life conservatives understand that the embryos that would be used in research are byproducts of in vitro fertilization procedures to be used to help couples who would otherwise not be able to have children. If these embryos are not used in research they will be discarded or frozen in perpetuity. We are not talking about destroying embryos for research; we are talking about using embryos in research that would otherwise be destroyed in any event.

In an eloquent editorial published in the Salt Lake Tribune in April 2002, Senator Hatch wrote:

Regenerative medicine is pro-life and pro-family. It fully enhances, not diminishes, human life. If encouraged to flourish, it can improve the lives of millions of Americans and could lead to new scientific knowledge that is likely to yield new treatments and cures.

Why would anyone oppose that? As everyone knows, Nancy Reagan strongly supports that position. The Nation's scientific community knows that embryonic stem cells have a unique potential to repair injury and treat disease. According to a letter signed in 1999 by 36 Nobel laureates, those who seek to prevent medical advances using stem cells must be held accountable to those, and their families, who suffer from horrible disease, as to why such hope should be withheld.

A later letter was sent by 80 Nobel laureates, and it said: Current evidence suggests that adult stem cells have markedly restricted differentiation potential. Therefore, for disorders that prove not to be treatable with adult stem cells, impending human pluripotent stem cell research risk unnecessary delay for millions of patients who may die or endure needless suffering while the effectiveness of adult stem cells is evaluated.

Those most affected by the Bush administration's cruel restrictions on this lifesaving research know it is wrong. Over 140 organizations representing patients and health professionals, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center, wrote to President Bush, urging him to end these unwarranted restrictions. The organizations signing that letter represent patients afflicted with cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and many other serious illnesses.

Their letter was written on the third sad anniversary of the announcement of the President's failed policy. It notes the grim statistics, that in the 3 years since that announcement, "more than 4 million Americans have died from diseases that embryonic stem cells have the potential to treat."

Even the Bush administration has admitted that adult stem cells cannot match the potential of embryonic stem cells. The conclusion of an NIH report in June of 2001 couldn't be clearer:

Stem cells in adult tissues do not appear to have the same capacity to differentiate as do embryonic stem cells.

The fundamental fact is that the Bush administration's first action on stem-cell research was to block the sensible policy that President Clinton had instituted to allow NIH to fund stem-cell research with strict ethical guidelines. As I noted earlier, President Clinton was the first President to allow NIH to fund embryonic stem-cell research, not President George Bush. His sensible policy was never implemented because the Bush administration blocked it.

If George Bush had not reversed President Clinton's sensible and well-reasoned policy, National Institutes of Health funded scientists would today be able to conduct research on stem cells uncontaminated with mouse cells. Because of George Bush's restrictions, they cannot.

If George Bush had not reversed the Clinton policy, National Institutes of Health funded scientists today would be able to search for breakthrough new cures by researching stem cells from patients with genetic disorders. Because of George Bush's restrictions, they cannot.

If George Bush had not reversed the Clinton policy, National Institutes of Health researchers would be free today to research cell lines that could actually be used in patients. Because of George Bush's restrictions, they cannot.

It is time to lift these restrictions. Millions of patients and their families hope that George Bush will lift those restrictions. But everyone in this Chamber knows he will not. To restore hope and renew the promise of medical progress, we need a change in November. We need a President who will not let a blind and stubborn ideology stand in the way of cures for diabetes, hope for cancer, relief for those suffering from many other disorders. America's patients need a change. They need John Kerry.

Mr. President, how much time do I have?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has 12 minutes.

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