Mr. President, a few weeks
ago I was visited by two of my constituents-- Mary Schneider and
her son Ryan.
When Ryan was just two
years old, his parents and doctors noted severe delays in his motor
and speech development, and he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
His parents were devastated, as the prognosis for many children
with cerebral palsy is quite grim, and given the severity of Ryan's
condition, his doctors didn't have much hope for his improvement.
Yet, his parents had hope.
Because when Ryan was born, his parents had saved his cord blood,
a viable but limited source of stem cells. They found a doctor at
Duke University who was willing to perform an experimental infusion
with these cells to see if they might improve his condition.
They did. In fact, they
seem to have cured him.
Within months of the infusion,
Ryan was able to speak, use his arms, and eat normally, just like
any other child - a miracle his family had once only dreamed of.
Ryan's story exemplifies
the power and the promise of stem cells to treat and cure the millions
of Americans who are suffering from catastrophic, debilitating and
life-threatening diseases and health conditions.
Each year, 100,000 Americans
will develop Alzheimer's disease. Over 1 million adults will be
diagnosed with diabetes this year, which can lead to complications
such as blindness, damaged nerves and loss of kidney function. And
there are far too many individuals with spinal cord injuries who
are struggling to maintain mobility and independence.
For most of our history,
medicine has offered little hope of recovery to individuals affected
by these and other devastating illnesses and injuries.
Recent developments in
stem cell research may hold the key to improved treatments, if not
cures, for those affected by Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, spinal
cord injury and countless other conditions.
Many men, women and children
who are cancer survivors are already familiar with the life-saving
applications of adult stem cell research. Patients with leukemia
or lymphoma often undergo bone marrow transplants, a type of stem
cell transplant, which can significantly prolong life, or permanently
get rid of the cancer. This therapy has been used successfully for
decades, and is saving lives everyday.
Yet this breakthrough has
its serious limitations. Adult stem cells, such as those used in
bone marrow transplants, can only be collected in small quantities,
may not be a match for the patient, and have limited ability to
transform into specialized cells.
Cord blood, like the kind
Ryan used, has limitations as well. If, for example, young Ryan's
condition should deteriorate or he should develop another illness,
there simply are not enough cord blood cells left for a second use.
His mother has told us that the few remaining cells would have to
be cloned to get enough cells for future use, or they would have
to obtain stem cells from another source.
These and other difficulties
are the reasons why scientists have started to explore other types
and other sources for stem cells, including embryonic stem cell
Embryonic stem cells can
be obtained from a number of sources, including in vitro fertilization.
At this very moment, there are over 400,000 embryos being stored
in over 400 facilities throughout the United States. The majority
of these are reserved for infertile couples. However, many of these
embryos will go unused, destined for permanent storage in a freezer
or disposal. We should expand and accelerate research using these
embryos, just as we should continue to explore the viability of
adult stem cell use and cord blood use.
All over the country, exciting
progress is being made in the area of embryonic stem cell research.
At the University of Illinois, they're finding that stem cells have
the potential to treat blood disorders, lung diseases, and heart
At Johns Hopkins, researchers
were able to use mouse embryonic stem cells to repair damaged nerves
and restore mobility in paralyzed rats. One can't help but think
that it's a matter of when, not if, this research will be able to
one day help those who have lost the ability to walk.
For these reasons, I'm
proud to be a long-term supporter of greater stem cell research.
While I was a member of the Illinois Senate, I was the chief cosponsor
of the Ronald Reagan Biomedical Research Act, which would specifically
permit embryonic stem cell research in Illinois, and establish review
of this research by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And I'm proud to be a cosponsor
of the stem cell bill before us today. This bill embodies the innovative
thinking that we as a society demand and medical advancement requires.
By expanding scientific access to embryonic stem cells which would
be otherwise discarded, this bill will help our nation's scientists
and researchers develop treatments and cures to help people who
suffer from illnesses and injuries for which there are currently
none. But the bill is not without limits; it requires that scientific
research also be subject to rigorous oversight.
I realize there are moral
and ethical issues surrounding this debate. But I also realize that
we're not talking about harvesting cells that would've been used
to create life and we're not talking about cloning humans. We're
talking about using stem cells that would have otherwise been discarded
and lost forever - and we're talking about using those stem cells
to possibly save the lives of millions of Americans.
Democrats want this bill
to pass. Conservative, pro-life Republicans want this bill to pass.
By large margins, the American people want this bill to pass. It
is only the White House standing in the way of progress - standing
in the way of so many potential cures.
I would only ask that the
President thinks about this before he picks up his pen to deliver
his first veto in six years. I would ask that he thinks about Ryan
Schneider and his parents, and all the other families who are sitting
and waiting and praying for a cure - hoping that somewhere, a researcher
or scientist will find the answer.
There was a time in the
middle of the last century when America watched helplessly as a
mysterious disease left thousands - especially children - disabled
for life. The medical community worked tirelessly to try and find
a cure, but they needed help - they needed funding to make their
With a world war raging
and the country still emerging from depression, the federal government
could have ignored their plight or told them to find a cure on their
But that didn't happen.
Instead, Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped galvanize a community
of compassion and organize the March of Dimes to find the cure for
polio. And while Roosevelt knew that his own polio would never be
cured by the discovery of a vaccine, he also knew that at its best,
government can be used as a force to accomplish together what we
cannot achieve on our own.
And so the people began
to care and the dimes piled up and the funding started to flow,
and fifty years ago, Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine.
Americans are looking for
that kind of leadership today. All over the country, patients and
their families are waiting today for Congress and the President
to open the door to the cures of tomorrow. At the dawn of the 21st
century, we should approach this research with the same passion
and commitment that have led to so many cures and saved so many
lives throughout our history.
I urge my colleagues to
support this bill. Thank you.