FROM THE 2004 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION
BOSTON, MA • JULY 27, 2004
Thank you very much. That’s very kind.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
A few of you may be surprised to see someone with my last
name showing up to speak at a Democratic Convention. Apparently
some of you are not. Let me assure you, I am not here to
make a political speech and the topic at hand should not — must
not — have anything to do with partisanship.
I am here tonight to talk about the issue of research into
what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or any
lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells — cells created
using the material of our own bodies — to cure a wide
range of fatal and debilitating illnesses: Parkinson’s
disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal cord
injuries and much more.
Millions are afflicted. And every year, every day, tragedy
is visited upon families across the country, around the world.
Now, it may be within our power to put an end to this suffering.
We only need to try.
Some of you — some of you already know what I’m
talking about when I say embryonic stem cell research. Others
of you are probably thinking, that’s quite a mouthful.
Maybe this is a good time to go for a tall cold one. Well,
wait a minute, wait a minute.
Let me try and paint as simple a picture as I can while
still doing justice to the science, the incredible science
involved. Let’s say that 10 or so years from now you
are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. There is currently
no cure and drug therapy, with its attendant side-effects,
can only temporarily relieve the symptoms.
Now, imagine going to a doctor who, instead of prescribing
drugs, takes a few skin cells from your arm. The nucleus
of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own
nucleus has been removed. A bit of chemical or electrical
stimulation will encourage your cell’s nucleus to begin
dividing, creating new cells which will then be placed into
a tissue culture. Those cells will generate embryonic stem
cells containing only your DNA, thereby eliminating the risk
of tissue rejection. These stem cells are then driven to
become the very neural cells that are defective in Parkinson’s
patients. And finally, those cells — with your DNA — are
injected into your brain where they will replace the faulty
cells whose failure to produce adequate dopamine led to the
Parkinson’s disease in the first place.
In other words, you’re cured.
And another thing — another thing, these embryonic
stem cells, they could continue to replicate indefinitely
and, theoretically, can be induced to recreate virtually
any tissue in your body.
How’d you like to have your own personal biological
repair kit standing by at the hospital? Sound like magic?
Welcome to the future of medicine.
Now by the way, no fetal tissue is involved in this process.
No fetuses are created, none destroyed. This all happens
in the laboratory at the cellular level.
Now, there are those who would stand in the way of this
remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so
crucial to basic research. They argue that interfering with
the development of even the earliest stage embryo, even one
that will never be implanted in a womb and will never develop
into an actual fetus, is tantamount to murder.
A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding
a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves.
But many — but many — many are well-meaning and
sincere. Their belief is just that, an article of faith,
and they are entitled to it. But it does not follow that
the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the
health and well-being of the many.
And how can we affirm life if we abandon those whose own
lives are so desperately at risk? It is a hallmark of human
intelligence that we are able to make distinctions.
Yes, these cells could theoretically have the potential,
under very different circumstances, to develop into human
beings — that potential is where their magic lies.
But they are not, in and of themselves, human beings. They
have no fingers and toes, no brain or spinal cord. They have
no thoughts, no fears. They feel no pain.
Surely we can distinguish between these undifferentiated
cells multiplying in a tissue culture and a living, breathing
person — a parent, a spouse, a child.
I know a child — well, she must be 13 now — I
guess I’d better call her a young woman. She has fingers
and toes. She has a mind. She has memories. She has hopes.
She has juvenile diabetes. Like so many kids with this disease,
she’s adjusted amazingly well. The — the insulin
pump she wears — she’s decorated hers with rhinestones.
She can handle her own catheter needle. She’s learned
to sleep through the blood drawings in the wee hours of the
She’s very brave. She is also quite bright and understands
full well the progress of her disease and what that might
ultimately mean: blindness, amputation, diabetic coma. Every
day, she fights to have a future.
What excuse will we offer this young woman should we fail
her now? What might we tell her children? Or the millions
of others who suffer? That when given an opportunity to help,
we turned away? That facing political opposition, we lost
our nerve? That even though we knew better, we did nothing?
And, should we fail, how will we feel if, a few years from
now, a more enlightened generation should fulfill the promise
of embryonic stem cell therapy? Imagine what they would say
of us who lacked the will.
No, no, we owe this young woman and all those who suffer — we
owe ourselves — better than that. We are better than
that. We are a wiser people, a finer nation.
And for all of us in this fight, let me say: we will prevail.
The tide of history is with us. Like all generations who
have come before ours, we are motivated by a thirst for knowledge
and compelled to see others in need as fellow angels on an
often difficult path, deserving of our compassion.
In a few months, we will face a choice. Yes, between two
candidates and two parties, but more than that. We have a
chance to take a giant stride forward for the good of all
humanity. We can choose between the future and the past,
between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and
This — this is our moment, and we must not falter.
Whatever else you do come Nov. 2, I urge you, please, cast
a vote for embryonic stem cell research.
Thank you for your time.
to the 2004 Democratic National Convention Page