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Keeping the Promise of Stem Cell Research

Reps. Castle and DeGette speak at CAP event about the viability of passing federal legislation to expand federal support for stem cell research.

“Make no mistake about it, support for stem cell research is important,” John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, said yesterday at an event highlighting the need to expand federal support for embryonic stem cell research and how it might be done politically.

Podesta introduced Reps. Mike Castle (R-DE) and Diana DeGette (D-CO), authors of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007. Also joining them was a distinguished panel of stem cell researchers invited to discuss the importance of vigorously pursuing embryonic stem cell research.

“The president has maintained that he would veto this bill; we continue to say it would be a mistake,” DeGette said. “Right now, we are on the frontiers of so many cures for diseases.”

Both DeGette and Castle emphasized that embryonic stem cell research holds great medical potential and enjoys bipartisan, majority support in Congress and among the American people. Yet, there is still intense opposition in Congress and from the president, who used his one and only veto to date on this legislation when it was passed last year.

“There is a movement out there that has prevented us from changing the mind of the president,” Castle explained. “There’s a lot of politics in this…They keep saying you don’t need to go into the embryonic stem cell lines, and that’s just false. It’s scientifically inaccurate.”

DeGette and Castle pressed the political importance of separating the debate over embryonic stem cells from the skewed pro-life arguments made by the president and many other opponents of the research. “What we are dealing with is very different than a pro-life issue,” Castle explained. “The embryos we talk about will never be implanted in a woman and will be disposed of as hospital waste. There will be no life as we know it…We are giving people a longer life; we are giving people a better life, and in the end, that is what being pro-life is all about.”

Despite strong minority opposition, support for embryonic stem cell research is still politically viable, as proven by the overwhelming support from pro-research candidates and ballot initiatives in the 2006 midterm elections. “There’s now an American understanding of what this research is and can be,” DeGette said; “It helped many of [those] candidates in the election.”

Yet Castle stressed that there is still more work to be done to ensure that legislation expanding the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federal funding makes it into law. “The grassroots support system to get this done is not as strong as it should be,” he said. “We’ve got to mobilize the forces in America.”

Despite the current setbacks, both Castle and DeGette professed confidence that stem cell research will be legalized and supported soon. “My view is, if it doesn’t happen before, this will happen in 2009,” Castle said. “If [candidates] are not [for stem cell research], they are not going to be nominated [for the presidency].” DeGette agreed that it will be a major issue in the 2008 presidential election as well, succinctly stating, “It will be a potent issue.”

Yet Castle and DeGette both expressed hope that they would be able to push legislation through even without the president’s approval. We need to keep working for a resolution, Castle declares; “I don’t think we should lose another single day…We need to turn the flame up on this fight!”

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