Open Letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET

Open Letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

Senate Bill 30 (S. 30), introduced on March the 29th 2007, by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. and co-sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), is a poison-pill bill which will kill all potential federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research utilizing excess IVF embryos or, potentially, derived from SCNT technology. Ironically, the short title of this bill is the Hope Act. For the millions of Americans suffering from potentially curable disorders resulting from human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, this act represents anything but hope. This act would effectively install the prohibitions against federal funding for hESC research found in the so-called Dickey amendment of 1995.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Isakson said, "It (the bill) gives an expansion of stem cell research and avoids the veto. If you can thread that needle and advance stem cell research you ought to do it."

I ask you, Mr. Majority Leader, how can a bill with the following language expand stem cell research? "In general, the Secretary shall conduct and support basic and applied research to develop techniques for the isolation, derivation, production, or testing of stem cells... provided that the isolation, derivation, production, or testing of such cells will not involve (1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) the destruction or discarding of, or risk of injury to, a human embryo or embryos other than those that are naturally dead."

Passage of this bill would, in effect, negate any benefit from the passage of Senate Bill 5 (S.5, the senate version of the Castle-DeGette House Bill aimed at utilizing excess IVF embryos referred to as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act). S. 30 would install into law the language and ill effects of the Dickey amendment.

Those lawmakers who support the vision of regenerative medicine and the potential of the power of human embryonic stem cell research should oppose Senate Bill 30. It is a bill detrimental to the advancement of human embryonic stem cell research and to the quest to cure human suffering and disease. It is a poison pill not only to hESC research, but to SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer). It is an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of America by offering a viable "alternatives" bill. This alternative research bill is being offered as part of a packaged compromise to insure the passage of S.5. This is far from a compromise; it is total surrender to a theocratic interpretation of science which, if endorsed, would be highly detrimental to the nation's well being.

Of historical note, a similar ploy was attempted in the last legislative session through the attempted passage of a bill introduced in the Senate by Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, S. 2754. This bill, entitled Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, was unwittingly passed by the Senate 100 to 0. It was ironically killed in the house by an overzealous and unsophisticated House leadership which overlooked the poison pill clauses in the back portion of the bill.

Please, Mr. Majority Leader, keep this bill, S. 30, the Coleman-Isakson bill, off the calendar, or put it where it really the garbage. If S. 30 has already made its way into the convoluted cerebral cement mixer of Congressional compromising, then don't think a vote for S. 30 is an innocuous means of gaining support for S. 5. Au contraire, S. 30 would negate the benefits of S.5. Read the proposed acts; read them carefully.
Dickey Amendment

Ralph Dittman, MD, MPH