First, I want to recommend two movies for you. You'll see why in a minute.
The first is Conviction, in theaters now, starring Hilary Swank. It is a true story, a man unjustly convicted of murder and sent to prison for life. But his sister believed in him, put herself through law school to become a lawyer, and proved his innocence by DNA tests. Wonderful movie, deserving of an Academy Award -- and every stem cell research supporter will identify with the roller-coaster struggle she fought through, on the way to an eventual triumph.
The second is a 3-minute video of my son, Roman Reed, the story of his football career and the accident which ended it--and the hope he has for curing paralysis.
Take a look-and then let anybody dare tell me the fight is not worth the effort.
Both of these true stories show exactly what we are facing now-a setback -- which will only become a defeat if we sit back and do nothing.
Roman had a California research law named after him: Assembly Bill 750, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999. It took years of effort to pass, IT was shot down again and again-but we stuck to our guns, and in the end raised $14 million California dollars for research, which the federal government matched with an additional $60 million.
This year the state budget crisis gutted the funding for the bill, but we are not giving up.
Roman's law paid for the paralysis cure research now underway by at Geron -- the world's first embryonic stem cell human trials.
A small step forward. And then came a mighty leap, like nothing else on earth.
In 2004 California voters approved a three billion dollar program.
A lot of smart folks said there was no hope to raise that kind of money in a depressed economy. But California did it anyway.
And today? Biomedicine already is the number two industry in the state. The demand for trained workers is becoming so strong we had to pass a separate law to encourage the training of biomed workers, to meet the anticipated demand.
Stem cell research is the future, providing not only stable and well-paying jobs but also leading America toward cures for all who suffer from currently incurable illnesses and disabilities.
That is part of the reason we kept virtually our whole governmental team in place: Democrats Jerry Brown (replacing stem cell champion Arnold Schwarzenegger), Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi (re-elected with an 80% majority from the people who know her best!) Gavin Newsom, John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney, Dave Jones, John Chiang, Kamala Harris -- lots more!
To the best of my knowledge, every one of these people is a strong stem cell research supporter.
Next door in Nevada, citizens chose Harry Reid to continue as their champion, another long-term supporter of regenerative medicine and biomed.
From neighbors Oregon and Washington the news was good, with Patty Murray holding onto a narrow lead, and Oregonian Ron Wyden solidly re-elected. In Alaska, home of vehemently anti-research Sara Palin, Republican Lisa Murkowski, a strong stem cell leader, simply refused to lose. Coming off a primary defeat, she tried the write-in candidacy route, which almost never wins -- but she is making it happen, and is in the lead as this is written.
In Connecticut, Dick Blumenthal staked his campaign boldly on the research-one newspaper article began with the sentence, "Nobody present could have any doubt: Dick Blumenthal supports stem cell research." "Blumenthal Definitely Supports Stem Cell Research", Paul Bass, New Haven Independent, August 27, 2010. Connecticut rewarded him with their trust.
(Conflicting reports on his opponent, Linda McMahon, with some saying she is pro, and others that she is only in favor of adult stem cells-if anyone knows for sure, I would appreciate knowing. It seems logical to me that anyone concerned with the national debt would be an ardent supporter of cure research,)
IN Colorado we retained a genuine heroine, Diana DeGette, who has led the fight to protect stem cell research on so many occasions-and we gained a new supporter, Michael Bennet, who defeated an opponent of the research in that state.
Tragically, we lost many great champions of stem cell research-people like Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio -- men and women to mourn. They can never be replaced.
In Florida,a tactical mistake cost us. The Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meeks, had no chance. If he had withdrawn, we would have had Charlie Crist as an independent in the Senate. His support for the research is unquestionable; he once line-item-vetoed an attempt to penalize state schools who did any embryonic stem cell research.
But we also gained some friends, like Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, who is very strong for full stem cell research. This from his website:
"On March 9, 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. In order to make the Executive Order permanent law, Congress must act to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Currently, Congressman Kirk is proud to be working closely with the House Stem Cell Whip Team to gather support and finalize the updated language of the bill for the 111th Congress. Once introduced, he will be an original cosponsor of this important legislation."
So how do I feel about the upcoming fight to pass the new Stem Cell Research Advancement Act (Hr 4808, S 3766)?
Let's do it.
We need to pass it right now, during the lame duck session, the few short weeks while Congress is in session before the new crop of officers take over.
We only have a couple months to make it happen.
Fortunately, we still have champions like Diana DeGette, Mike Castle, Arlen Specter, Barbara Boxer and others to lead the fight.
It will be difficult to do, of course. Congress is exhausted after one of the most bitter electoral campaigns in history.
But everything we do is difficult. The first historical mention of paralysis is a pictogram on the walls of an Egyptian tomb, translated as: "Of paralyzed soldiers, deny them water, let them die; there is nothing that can be done."
For centuries, paralysis was considered the very symbol of a condition impossible to cure -- and yet today, thanks to embryonic stem cell research, we are closer than ever to fulfilling Christopher Reeve's great prediction, that "One day, Roman and I will stand up from our wheel chairs and walk away from them forever."
Cure did not come in time for the paralyzed Superman, but in the Reed household we still believe in his great dream.
For more information, visit the website of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research: CAMRAdvocacy.org, the non-political group of groups which leads the way.
And contact your Congressional Representatives and Senators, whether they won re-election or not -- what a great legacy to leave behind, a positive step that will benefit the world.
Passing a stem cell research protection law can be done -- it must be done -- but it will be most easily done with the larger stem cell majority we have in office now.
To do so would honor the bipartisan spirit in which the Stem Cell Research Act was passed twice before: Republicans and Democrats working together in that unity without which our country cannot succeed.
We all have families at risk of incurable disease and disability; we all are burdened by the national debt, the largest component of which is medical expense.
Regardless of your politics: Republican or Democrat, right-wing or left -- the eagle needs two wings to fly.
Follow Don C. Reed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/diverdonreed