LIEBERMAN’S LEGACY: a Stem Cell Research Protection Act?
By Don C. Reed
Throughout his career, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) has always followed his conscience, even when it was not in his political best interests.
In 2000, when the Gore/Bush election was being decided by a handful of votes, vice Presidential candidate Lieberman insisted that U.S. soldiers overseas (trending Republican) be given extra time to turn in their ballots. He felt our soldiers always deserve the best of everything, including special help with voting—although it gave the GOP more votes.
In 2008, Lieberman endorsed and campaigned for John McCain, the Republican candidate. That made me so mad I wanted to smack the television set!
It made him the Republican’s favorite Democrat, and brought pain. The outrage was palpable. It cost the previously popular Democrat his party’s majority support, so he had to run for re-election as an independent.
But it was a measure of the man. McCain was his great friend, and that loyalty was unalterable.
Senator Lieberman recently announced his retirement.
Now I have never met the Senator. Even so, I would like to ask him a favor.
If I could, I would introduce him to my paralyzed son Roman Reed, and ask the Senator to lead the charge once more for stem cell research.
As Roman always says:
“Take a stand for stem cell research. Take a stand—so one day, everybody can.”
Right now, Joe Lieberman is uniquely positioned to protect the field of embryonic stem cell research.
America needs a law to protect stem cell research from activist judges, ultra-conservative ideologues, and the well-financed assaults of the Religious Right.
The Senator from Connecticut may be the one man in America who can work with all sides to develop and pass such a law.
As you recall, a major lawsuit, Sherley v. Sebelius, seeks to deny all federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. This would have devastating consequences: blasting our chances to lead the world in the burgeoning biomedical field, slowing the advance of progress, delaying cures perhaps for generations.
That lawsuit hinges on a single false assumption, without which the case would collapse.
Bush Appointee Judge Royce Lamberth states that Congress is against the research.
He is completely wrong. Congress supports embryonic stem cell research—but the law which would have put it on record was twice vetoed by George Bush.
In 2003 and 2007 Congress said YES to federal funding for stem cell research twice, in the most clear and unmistakable way. They debated the issue in both the Senate and the House, and had an up or down vote.
Twice, the entire legislative branch of the United States government went on record in support of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research.
So how can Judge Lamberth make such a ludicrous claim, that Congress is opposed to what it plainly supports?
An obscure regulation, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment (DWA), prohibits “endangering embryos”.
That, the judge interprets as being against embryonic stem cell research—although the DWA was passed three years before human embryonic stem cells were even isolated for the first time—and three Presidents and their accompanying Congresses have agreed DWA does not disqualify the research.
Never debated, and never voted on, the DWA cannot be called the will of Congress.
It was imposed on Congress, without consent. Calling it the will of Congress is like injecting poison into the body of a sleeping man, and then arresting him for being under the influence of drugs!
But Lamberth argues that Dickey-Wicker is the will of Congress, and on that basis will almost certainly decide against us.
The appeals court? Three more conservative judges, all Bush appointees—and after that, the Supreme Court, the Roberts Court, called the most conservative in modern history.
We need an official statement from Congress that it does indeed support embryonic stem cell research—we need, in short, a Stem Cell Research Protection Act.
It could be the Castle/DeGette version or others available with suitable updates, or something new.
But any such bill will require the votes of at least a few Republicans, and right now, they do not seem eager to cooperate with Democrats.
So: who better to reach across the aisle than the man who has paid such a high price for his willingness to support Republicans?
If any non-Republican can influence them, it is this man.
To my friends in the stem cell research advocacy community, I urge you to contact Joe Lieberman and ask him to lead the charge to pass a Stem Cell Research Protection Act.
If you belong to a medical support group, contact your leaders and ask them to do the same.
If you live in Connecticut, or have a friend who does, reach out to Senator Lieberman.
If you work at the University of Connecticut, (UCONN) or any college or institution where stem cell research must be funded, stand up for your endeavor, and for scientific freedom everywhere.
For me, when I hear the word Connecticut I think of the great stem cell scientist Jerry Yang, who worked tirelessly at UCONN– even as his facial cancer progressed. He several operations which cut into the muscles until his speech was difficult; but he continued. At last his voice was silenced, but Jerry Yang’s work in Connecticut deserves to be remembered, and to go forward.
“Go forward!”, said paralyzed Superman Christopher Reeve, and so we must.
And where does Joe Lieberman stand on embryonic stem cell research?
Here are his words, when he spoke for America, opposing President George Bush’s restrictive policies:
“Mr. President I rise in support of the stem cell bills currently being considered by the Senate. Frankly, this debate has been too long in coming and I commend my friends, Majority Leader Frist and Minority Leader Reid, on coming to an agreement and bringing this debate to the floor.
“This is as real as it gets. This is about life over death and hope over despair. This is about encouraging astounding scientific advances that can relieve the suffering of millions of our fellow citizens, or accepting… a retreat as we watch the rest of the world march past us.
“… the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810, deals with embryonic stem cells.
“Let me say that with a big “E”. These embryonic stem cells actually hold the greatest promise for those afflicted with currently incurable diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart failure and spinal cord injury…
“The potential is breathtaking. What this means is that an individual with quadriplegia could walk again. The elderly affected by Alzheimer’s can be brought back from a hellish twilight and rejoin their families. Childhood leukemia could be banished to the realm of distant memory. And Americans everywhere will have a second chance at running with strong loud hearts.
“… President Bush issued an executive order which effectively banned federally funded embryonic stem cell research. This has stifled our nation’s attempts to lead the world in harnessing the potential and miracles of embryonic stem cells.
“The president reasoned, like many who oppose this bill, that the process of embryonic stem cell extraction amounts to abortion because these cells have to be taken from microscopic embryos that do not survive the process.
“What the President did not mention is that the embryos under discussion number in the tens of thousands. They are the unused embryos from in-vitro fertilization, are frozen in fertility clinics, are unique, and will be thrown away.
“I repeat: Thrown away. The chance to offer new life to millions of Americans suffering from debilitating by disease or injury will be discarded as medical waste…
“Let us be clear, alternatives to embryonic stem cells, such as umbilical cord and adult bone marrow stem cells, are inferior alternatives. They do not have the same regenerative potential and Congress has already authorized money that is currently being used for research in this area.
“Today we stand at destiny’s doorstep with the chance to have it swing wide and open into a new age of scientific and medical understanding. We must not hesitate.
“I urge my colleagues will join me in its passage H.R.810 and I call on President Bush to sign it into law and not veto the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans for whom astounding new cures may lie just over the threshold of our present knowledge…”
–From his website, accessed January 22, 2011: Lieberman Supports Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research 07.18.06
Joe Lieberman could unify friends of research for cure in all parties. The ideological logjam could be broken, bringing hope to millions with chronic disease, here and everywhere.
What a shining moment to light the world.
What a legacy.