During today's debate, Murray spoke in personal terms on the Senate floor, where she discussed her father's experience with Multiple Sclerosis when she was growing up. Murray said families today deserve the hope and potential cures that were not available to her family years ago.
In the coming weeks, the House of Representatives is expected to take up and pass the Senate version. The President has threatened to veto the bill.
"Today the Senate sent a strong message that we stand with patients, doctors and scientists in favor of expanding research and offering hope for desperately needed cures," Murray said. "As this bill moves closer to the President's desk, I hope he will finally decide to put science and American families above politics and ideology."
Senator Murray's full remarks follow:
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to speak out in strong support of promising research that can save lives and bring hope to millions of Americans. I will vote for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, and I urge all of our colleagues to do the same. More importantly, I urge President Bush to finally hear the voices of scientists, medical leaders, patients, and more than 500 organizations who have said loud and clear - it is time for promising research to move forward in this country.
It's time to take the handcuffs off of our scientists, so they can pursue the cures that Americans are waiting for. For too long, this President has allowed politics and ideology to trump life-saving research. We need to correct that mistake, and this bill shows us how.
Throughout the country, citizens are suffering from diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and MS. They and their families are looking to us for help. We have scientists and researchers who are so eager to provide that help, but today their hands are tied by arbitrary restrictions that President Bush imposed back in 2001. I believe we can allow research on embryonic stem cells, and we can do so with the strong ethical guidelines that are required under this legislation.
The President's Restrictions Have Hindered Progress
In August of 2001, President Bush greatly limited the number of embryonic stem cells available for federally-funded research. Those limits were based on inaccurate science and ideology, and they have restricted our ability to make progress. Now at the time, the White House said there were 78 stem cell lines available for federally-funded research. But now we know that there are only 21 such lines. Researchers - those men and women that we count on to find cures for the diseases that impact so many -- believe it is imperative to have access to newer, more promising stem cell lines that do not pose the risk of contamination.
Impact on Scientific Progress and America's Scientific Leadership
The first consequence of the President's restrictions has been to limit hope and to limit progress for families who suffer from these diseases.
The second impact has been to push embryonic stem cell research overseas. That means our country is falling behind other countries in a cutting-edge field. Because the President imposed arbitrary limits, we are surrendering our scientific leadership to other countries. That can have far-reaching consequences for our economy and our future.
My home state of Washington is home to world class research institutions like the University of Washington. I want our country and our institutions to be at the leading edge of scientific frontiers, so our country and all of us can benefit from new advances.
The bill that we are considering today and will vote on this evening will lift the President's arbitrary restrictions and put in place expanded research under strict ethical guidelines. It would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct and support research on stem cells that are derived from frozen embryos now stored in fertility clinics that would otherwise be destroyed. This bill also promotes research into finding alternative ways to derive stem cells that do not involve the destruction of an embryo. And, as I said, this bill imposes strong ethical guidelines. In fact, the ethical standards in this bill are even stricter than the President's policy.
Unique Potential of Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cell research is a relatively young field. These cells were not even isolated in humans until 1998. Scientists believe that embryonic stems cells are more valuable than adult stem cells because they can develop into any type of cell or tissue in the body. Just think of all the veterans coming home from Iraq with spinal cord injuries. Think of all the veterans of the First Gulf War who are now being diagnosed with M.S., who could be helped by promising research.
In my own family, I have seen up close and personal the impact that a disease like Multiple Sclerosis can have. When I was just 15 years old, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I saw him - in just a few years - going from working to being someone who was home in a wheelchair every single day, every single minute. For all of the rest of his life, my father was confined to a wheelchair. I can't tell you what a profound impact that had on my family. My mom had to stay home and raise myself and my six brothers and sisters. She had to go back to work and get a job, and she had to stay home and take care of him - all at the same time. It was a very, very difficult time for my family. The medical bills were amazing. The challenges that my family went through because of my dad's illness were incredible. I can only sit here today and imagine what it might have been like had there been a cure for MS - for my family and for thousands of others. When I was growing up, the promise of this type of research wasn't even on the horizon. Today, that potential is in our hands. We need to do everything we can to make sure that research is done so that families like mine have hope and opportunity in the future. I hope that we don't see it continually blocked by policies that put ideology over science. I think it's time to change course and put our government on the side of patients and their families and to give them hope again.
NIH Director Supports Expanding Stem Cell
Last month the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, told the us, and I quote
"[I] it is clear today that American science would be better served and the nation would be better served if we let our scientists have access to more cell lines . . ."
The NIH Director said that the existing lines will not be sufficient for the research that needs to be done, and he said that adult stem cells do not have the same potential as embryonic stem cells.
Now that's the scientific view of the director of the National Institutes of Health. The Senate and the President would be very wise to heed his counsel.
Mr. President, I know what it's like to grow up with someone who has a serious illness. I can only imagine what it would have been like to know that there was hope and a chance for a cure. I know for many, many families out there they've been waiting for this day in the Senate for us to vote on and pass this important stem cell research bill.
I want to commend Senator Harkin for his perseverance in coming back and again pushing this as one of the first pieces of legislation we consider in this Congress. We all it has a ways to go.
We know that the President has said he might veto it, but I hope that he doesn't. I hope that he sends a message to some young girl out there who dad has just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis that we are a country of hope once again. Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to vote for this legislation. I look forward to its passage today and moving through conference, and I hope it will be signed by the President of the United States.