DR. COBURN REMARKS ON STEM CELL RESEARCH
April 12, 2007
Mr. COBURN: Mr. President, I listened with interest to the Senator from
New York. As a practicing physician and somebody who has delivered over
4,000 children, I cared for both toddlers and young adults with type 1
diabetes. There is nobody who doesn't want to see that disease fixed.
The problem is, we shouldn't promise things we don't know are accurate.
What we do know is that yesterday on CNN, an article was released from
JAMA showing the treatment of 13 young Brazilians who had type 1
diabetes who are now free from using exogenous insulin. They are on no
medicine whatsoever and their sugar is totally controlled. That is one
step going forward in all the areas of medicine.
The other comment I will make before I make my final points is, if you
talk to anybody in the area of research on Alzheimer's--Alzheimer's, and
we heard it time and time again, is a devastating disease for
individuals who have it, and it is a devastating disease for families
who care for their loved ones with it--I don't know of anybody in
embryonic stem cell research or in research in medicine by themselves
who has great hopes for a cure of Alzheimer's with embryonic stem cells.
We have heard that claim time and time again. It is not a great hope for
Alzheimer's. There is hope. There is beta secretase, which is an enzyme
that causes Alzheimer's to be laid down. There are great medicines
coming forward. Some are in trials in primates right now that tend to
stop Alzheimer's in its tracks.
We ought not to be promising things we don't know or are not realistic
in terms of Alzheimer's. That is the case.
I want to sum up where we are, the differences between the two bills.
One bill, S. 5, has lots of positives in it. We hear it is not going to
destroy any other embryos, there is going to be a grandfather of the
embryos that have been created since. We heard the Senator from New York
say something different. We heard the Senator from California yesterday
talk about the 400,000 embryos that are frozen today, of which only 2.8
percent are available and less than that number--so less than 250
lines--could totally be created out of all the embryos that are
available in this country today.
The answers are kind of sleight of hand. To have an effective embryonic
stem cell program, other than what is provided in S. 30, means we are
going to use Federal taxpayer dollars, indirectly or directly, to
destroy embryos. You can say you are not, but the fact is that will
What are the positives of S. 30? The positives of S. 30 are that it
looks at everything. It looks at all the new and upcoming methods. One
is altered nuclear transfer. No. 1, you don't destroy any embryo, you
don't create an embryo, but yet you get identical cells to what an
embryonic stem cell would be, totally pluripotent, totally capable of
doing everything an embryonic stem cell can do.
Why is there resistance to that? Why would there be any resistance to
that? There shouldn't be.
The second point is what we call germ cell pluripotent stem cells. Those
are made from the testes and ovaries of us, each of us, and we can have
treatments designed for ourselves. Every tissue type in the body has now
been produced from germ cell pluripotent stem cells, either ovarian or
testicular, again, applying the same pluripotent stem cells you get from
an embryo, but you never destroy a life.
My friend from Minnesota, one of the coauthors of this bill, makes a
great point. Whatever happens at the end of the day--right now this
glass of water represents what is happening on embryonic stem cell
research with Government funds in this country. There is a whole lot of
other research going on with embryonic stem cells outside the
Government. It has not dead stopped. As a matter of fact, it is
advancing forcefully without Government money. But this represents what
is there. If S. 5 is passed out of this body and the House, this is what
we will see next year: the same amount, because this bill is going to be
However, if S. 30 is passed, what we will see is this much research, a
doubling of the research next year. So one says help people play the
political game when we know it is going to be vetoed. S. 30 says let's
do something real. Let's give an answer to the hope. Let's double it up
and let's do it in a way that is an ethically good way.
The final point I wish to make is to anybody who wants us to do
embryonic stem cell research, anybody who has a family member with a
chronic disease, anybody who has a child with diabetes, anybody who has
any need that has hope coming from ``embryonic stem cell research,'' the
question I put forward to them is this: If we can show you the science
is going to give us exactly the same results with never destroying an
embryo, what would your choice be--destroy an embryo and get the results
or do not destroy an embryo and go one of the multitude other ways to
accomplish exactly the same purpose?
That is the real question that is facing this body. That is the question
the American people ask. The science is 2 to 3 years ahead of the debate
in this body today.
A lot of times my colleagues accuse me of not making much sense on the
floor when I talk about these issues because it is a medical issue, it
is a scientific issue. I am a doctor. I understand the science, so I
tend to not use the words as plainly as I should. But the ethical
question still arises: Do you want a doubling of the research to go
forward and answer the very human need that is out there or do you want
to play the political game and have exactly what we have today?
I say to Senator Harkin, that is what will happen if S. 5 goes through.
It is going to be vetoed. It will not be overridden in the House. Or we
can have S. 30 that does as much or more than S. 5 and we will see a
difference for the American people.
The hope my colleagues talk about will be realized when S. 30 gets
passed, when S. 30 gets signed. The President has said he will sign it.
It makes available everything we will need and still accomplishes the
same goals but does it twice as fast. That is the real question: Do we
want to play politics with this issue? Do we want to say somebody's
legitimate position of valuing life, that they have an illegitimate
position because they value life at the expense of somebody with chronic
disease, or can they value life, come with an answer that actually
accomplishes the same purpose in a better timeframe with better results
with S. 30? That is the real question for us.
I understand the political game we are playing. I understand the
diseases. But when you read the basic raw research that is going forward
today, we are not even close to what is happening, we are not even
talking about what is happening out there.
Final point. Make sure you understand that if you believe in embryonic
stem cell research as a viable ethical alternative, you also have to
believe in cloning because the only way you will get a treatment that is
good for you without rejection, without rejecting the very treatment
that is being given to you, is for you to clone yourself. That is the
dirty little secret nobody wants to talk about in this debate because
once we accomplish with true embryonic stem cells versus altered nuclear
transfer, any treatment will require antirejection drugs or you having
to clone yourself.
The language is very specific. There is no cloning as far as implanting
into a uterus, but it doesn't mean you don't clone yourself and destroy
yourself to meet a need for you.
It is a very complicated ethical issue about which we ought to be very
clear. It is not just destroying embryos. It is going the next step now
to have an effect from that treatment.
I believe there will be good treatments come out of embryonic stem cell
research. I don't have any doubt about that. I believe exactly those
same treatments will come and be better from altered nuclear transfer,
from dedifferentiation, which is a term that says you take a cell that
is more mature and dedifferentiate it back to a pluripotent cell, or
from germ cells, either ovarian or testicular.
We can accomplish the desires of everybody who is hurting in our country
today who has a hope and do it in a realistic way with S. 30 that will
deliver the goods, deliver taxpayers' dollars to make a difference. S. 5
will deliver nothing, nothing for at least 2 years, because this
President won't sign it.
So the consequence and the question that comes back to us is: Are we
going to do something that is meaningful or are we going to play the
political game that in the long term has no meaning, at least for the
next 2 years?