Stem Cell Research Bill; Deriving Stem Cells in a Positive Way to Save Lives

Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Georgia for his gracious gesture. I also thank my colleague from Iowa, Senator Harkin, along with Senator Specter, for introducing this bill on stem cell research.

Some important things have been said on the Senate floor today. Senator Smith of Oregon made an exceptionally moving statement on this issue. I thank him for sharing his views. This is a tough issue. It is not easy. I totally respect those who see it differently than I do, including the Senator from Kansas. They are trying to apply to this important political debate their own conscience. That is an important thing in this business, that we bring our conscience to the Senate Chamber. I know, as most people do, that as we meet and debate this issue on the floor of the Senate, the lives of Americans continue. All across America, in sterile laboratories, there are doctors and scientists at work today trying to help loving couples create human life. These are men and women, husbands and wives, who want a child and, because of some physical problem, they cannot conceive. So they spend enormous sums of money--thousands of dollars--on the chance that in a little glass dish in a laboratory life can be created that will end up being the child they will love for the rest of their lives. It is a beautiful story of love that is repeated every day in America in these laboratories. I have a friend who recently had a baby girl--2 weeks ago. Eight days after she was born, I was giving her a bottle. I thought I had lost all those talents, but they came back to me. My wife was admiring her and telling the mom how proud we were. She talked about going through this process and how when they went into this laboratory and looked at all of the possible embryos that could lead to the birth of the child, they picked the healthiest and strongest ones, naturally.

But other embryos were not chosen. What happens to those? At the end of the day, what happens to those that are not chosen to end up becoming a baby? They are thrown away, discarded. Now, Senator Brownback has referred to these as ``nascent'' human life, young human beings. I see this a little differently. I cannot understand how we can condone legally a process that will end up at the end of the day with these embryonic stem cells being thrown away and discarded, when we know if those same stem cells that are about to be thrown away are given, under appropriate guidelines, with strong ethical standards, to laboratories, they could lead to cures for serious illnesses. Is it better morally to throw them away or is it better morally to use them in a positive way to enrich and save human life? That is what this debate comes down to, as far as I am concerned.

I have many friends and there isn't a family in America that hasn't been touched by Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, ALS, or diabetes. We all know the stories. That is part of American family life today. When you are a parent of a child who suffers from one of these illnesses or diseases, the first thing you want to know is: Doctor, what can be done? Is there a cure? Is there a place I can take my daughter to where they are going do surgery or a procedure--something--to save her from this disease? That is the first question a parent asks.

Because President Bush decided over 4 years ago to close down Federal funding in this area of research, it limits the opportunity to find those cures. The President has said he is asserting his moral belief, his ethical position on this issue. Well, everybody brings their moral and ethical positions to these issues, but you have to ask the larger question: Is it right for the President to impose on all of the families in America who are afflicted with diseases his moral and ethical views?

I think what Senator Harkin has done is more reasonable. He has said we will have strong ethical guidelines for this kind of research. No one is going to make a dollar off this. You cannot direct this research toward any person. This is strictly scientific, closely guarded, with strong ethical guidelines. Senator Isakson has come up with an approach, too, to use a different form of these cells. I also applaud his approach. Let us try everything we can ethically find that moves us forward toward finding cures. That is what this should be about. If you believe the embryos not used in in vitro fertilization are human life, as described here, I think you have a moral obligation to outlaw in vitro fertilization because, frankly, at the end of the day these ``nascent'' human lives will be destroyed. We know that. But you have not heard that suggestion. Those opposing stem cell research are not opposing in vitro fertilization; they say go forward with that, knowing the choice would be made to discard the stem cells rather than use them for medical research. I don't follow that logic. I think it is morally consistent for them to oppose embryonic stem cell research and prohibit in vitro fertilization. But they have not gone that far.

We have tough choices ahead of us in this bill. I think they are obvious choices. We understand what Senators Harkin and Specter have done. They open the door for funding Federal research in this area. I am glad the Governor of Illinois found money to initiate this research in Illinois. California and many other States are also doing this. Why are we doing it State by State, not as a national Government, as we do all medical research? The President doesn't view this the same as other people. He used his veto pen once as President and that was to veto stem cell research. I think that is inappropriate.

As I get into this debate, I think about a lot of people I have met who are victims of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, ALS, cancer, and spinal cord injuries. I think about visiting the Heinz VA Hospital yesterday and seeing a quadriplegic who has been bedridden since the Korean war. Imagine that, if you will. I think about those who have suffered spinal cord injuries who want the chance, the possibility, that this research will allow them to lead a more complete and full life. I also think of my colleague from the House of Representatives, Lane Evans. He came to Congress in 1982 as a wonderful, great young man, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam era. He had to give up his congressional career last year because of Parkinson's. It got to the point where he could not continue his official duties. He used to come to the floor and beg for this bill to pass so others suffering from Parkinson's would have a chance.

I dedicate my vote in support of this bill in support of Lane Evans, the veterans, and so many others who are counting on us to move this research forward. Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the Director of the NIH, stated our Nation would be better served if federally funded scientists had access to embryonic stem cells for research. He separated himself from the Bush administration's official position. He said:

It is not possible for me to know how we can continue the momentum of science and research with the stem cell lines we have at NIH that can't be funded. From my standpoint as director of the NIH, it is in the best interest of our scientists, our science, and our country that we find ways and the nation finds a way to go full speed across adult and embryonic stem cells equally.

I am not going to argue against research using cord blood, adult stem cells, the type of stem cells described by Senator Isakson in his bill. But I think we have a moral obligation to the men and women who are counting on us to open this research to find cures. This is our chance, with passage of this bill.

I will vote in favor of both S. 5, the Harkin bill, and S. 30, the Isakson bill, to support all ways of deriving stem cells in a positive way to save lives. If you are in favor of human life and making it better, this is your chance. What matters most in this debate is that we aim to make good on the promises we vowed to keep. Let's support the research that can lessen so much pain for so many and support S. 5.