Monday, September 11, 2006

Wanna Know Why I'm Voting for McCaskill?

Wanna Know Why I'm Voting for McCaskill?

So, today, Sept. 11th of all days, I finally got a response to an email message I sent to Jim Talent several months ago. Admittedly, it wasn't on the top of my priority list, since I probably just made a few changes to an action alert from one of the many distro lists on which my name is filed. Most likely, in this case it was via the American Diabetes Association.

This message was about embryonic stem cell research (yes, you can also guess how I'm voting on Amendment 2 in November!), and probably was a reply to a message I sent back in May or June, given the subject line: "Re: One Year is Too Long; Pass H.R.810 NOW." (more on HR 810, which the Senate did finally pass July 18th but of course Pres. Bush vetoed it).

The text of the reply from Talent's office was surprisingly lengthy, and included an attached PDF of a speech he made back in February 2005 (identical to this one posted on National Review's web site), explaining why he so strongly opposed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Out of fairness, I've copied the full text of the Senator's email response below. This is a very complex, emotionally charged issue, no doubt. Nevertheless, I feel something missing in Senator Talent's response. While Claire McCaskill sure ain't perfect, I still think she'd represent my views better on many issues, including this one.

Dear Mr. Frank:

Thank you for contacting me to discuss stem cell research. I appreciate the time you have taken to share your views with me, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

In the Senate, I have supported more than $2 billion in funding for stem cell research, including adult, umbilical cord, and embryonic stem cell research. I believe this research is important and that it is too early to say that there is no value to pluripotent stem cell research in general.

I've spent the better part of a year researching this issue, meeting with people on all sides: groups who oppose cloning embryos to get stem cells, scientists who support it, parents who don't know who or what to believe but who are desperate for a cure for their children. Many to whom I've spoken have strong opinions about the underlying moral issues. In every case, I respected the sincerity and passion of those whom I spoke with. I have strong opinions of my own.

I believe human beings are precious. I am concerned about the tendency of our society to devalue people because they are too old, too young, or too inconvenient to have around. At the same time, I understand the desperation of parents whose children are sick or dying and who are desperate for treatments that will make them well. I want to help find cures for these children-but I also want them to grow up in a society that values them for their inherent dignity-for who they are, regardless of their age, infirmity, level of success or achievement.

The reason this issue is difficult is that there is an area of overlap between cloning and stem cells. Some scientists believe that stem cells from a cloned human embryo may have unique advantages for medical research. I think it is too early to say that there is no value to pluripotent stem cell research in general, so long as it does not harm or clone human embryos. As a result, I have been investigating new scientific developments to see whether we can strike a balance that allows both stem cell research to relieve human suffering and the protection against human cloning. The newest medical research shows that alternatives are available which make such a balanced position possible. These alternative methods could make it possible in the near future to get every type of stem cell, including those that are patient specific and pluripotent, without cloning, creating, or harming a human embryo.

One of the alternative approaches is called Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT). The author and most vocal champion of ANT is Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford. Dr. Hurlbut assured me months ago that ANT was technologically feasible and would soon be validated through animal models. And, indeed, late last year stem cell biologists, Alexander Meissner and Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, used ANT to produce fully functional pluripotent stem cells from a laboratory-construct without creating an embryo.

In a speech to the Senate, I also proposed a competition, to be managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which would create incentives for our great research institutions to get patient specific pluripotent stem cells without risking the cloning or harming of an embryo. Simply put, the NIH would take applications from research institutions with plans to accomplish the goal. For example, the NIH could allocate $70 million dollars in total to the project, $10 million each for five institutions to conduct their comprehensive plans and then a prize of $20 million to the first institution to successfully produce patient specific pluripotent stem cells without cloning or harming a human embryo.

For all of these reasons, I voted enthusiastically for the alternative approaches and the prohibition against fetus farms in the Senate. I voted against H.R. 810, which uses tax dollars to fund research that requires the destruction of human embryos. The Federal Government has never funded such research before, and that is not a line I wish to cross-especially since, as the alternatives show, it is possible to fund every type of stem cell research without cloning or destroying human embryos.

As you know, one of the difficulties with this issue is that much depends on understanding at least the basics of the science involved, and the science is complicated. Attached, please find a complete copy of my speech on this issue. I encourage you to take the time to read it. I would be interested in your further comments on this issue.

Again, thank you for contacting me. If I may be of further assistance, please don't hesitate to call or write

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