By Don C. Reed

Moments ago, a Nebraskan, University Regent Jim McClurg, struck a blow for scientific freedom. I just had to tell you about it!

Eight members on the board of regents. Four had authored a resolution to restrict embryonic stem cell research to only those few inadequate cell lines which existed before 2001—in other words to stop the research—at the only place in the state that could do it.

Consider the pressure. The man’s phone number had been posted publicly by the Religious Right, which urged its membership to call Mr. McClurg, and “politely” (their word) convince him to vote the way the Religious Right demanded.

But he would not bend. He voted against the resolution. He deserves the respect and appreciation of all who support research for cure.

He and three other members of the board—thank you, Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons, Bob Whitehouse of Papillion, and Kent Schroeder of Kearney—all voted in favor of research for cure.

The President of the College J.B. Milliken also spoke out clear and strong, which is extraordinarily difficult politically for a college leader: but he stood up for all of us.

Champion scientist Larry Goldstein set aside his crowded schedule, and came to Nebraska to speak with whomever would listen. If you have heard Larry talk, you know you have heard one of our field’s best advocates, and an outstanding human being.

And fighting every step of the way, were the patient advocates: like my buddy Victoria Kohout—and Sanford M. Goodman, President of the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures.

Mr. Sanford was kind enough to credit this column for spreading the word. He said that when he contacted other states to ask for information, they knew about the struggle, because they read it here. If so, I am very glad. If Nebraska wins, everybody wins.

But this is Sandy Goodman’s moment, when he fought for Nebraska and the future of stem cell research.

I want you to hear exactly what he said, when everything was hanging in the balance.

Chairman Schroeder and Regents; thank you for the opportunity to address you today.  I am Sanford M. Goodman, President of the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures.

You have heard that research institutions in six other states have prospered under more severe restrictions than in Nebraska and that the work of international scientific leaders suggests that we should focus all our efforts on iPS, a key premise of the proposed resolution.

Notwithstanding the fact that the state analysis is too simplistic to be meaningful, of the states cited, only Louisiana has research restrictions similar to those being proposed here, and the two stem cell biologists there that I spoke to anticipate building pressure to remove those restrictions.

Iowa and Michigan were listed as having had bans of some sort – and they were both lifted due to the negative impact on those states.  Virginia has a cloning ban but no restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.  Minnesota and Pennsylvania were incorrectly listed as having long-standing bans on the use of embryonic stem cell lines.

As for the international scientific leaders cited, make no mistake about it — none would support the proposed resolution.  Indeed, two who contacted us yesterday are appalled that their names were used in this context.

Two of them were interviewed for a current article, along with Shinya Yamanaka and another scientist, in which they unanimously describe the important, ongoing role for new embryonic stem cell lines in highly regulated, ethical research to alleviate suffering and save lives.  George Daley also emphasized this point in his e-mail to us.

Among others, you have received letters from James Thomson and Sir Ian Wilmut, the International Society for Stem Cell Research, representing thousands of stem cell researchers, and, just yesterday, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest multidisciplinary science society, representing the interests of ten million scientists worldwide, and publisher of the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Science.  Every single one of them expressed their support for President Milliken’s position on this issue.

The evidence is overwhelming that the underlying premise of the proposed resolution is entirely without foundation.  It will hinder, not advance, the University’s biomedical research program.

The resolution will harm the university and I urge you to vote it down.

I will close with substantially the same words with which I closed when I first addressed this issue before the regents on September 7, 2001.

I noted then that some see the derivation and use of embryonic stem cells as a devaluation of life.  But everything about embryonic stem cell research is a celebration and affirmation of life.

Parents yearning for a genetic offspring create the embryos in the first place.  Scientists dedicated to the preservation and improvement of life seek the opportunity to apply their skills and efforts to the search for cures with the otherwise to be discarded remains of these excess embryos.  Parents and loved ones of those who suffer want only to see them restored to the full enjoyment of a long life.

I quoted Senator Orin Hatch then as declaring “that this research is consistent with bedrock pro-life, pro-family values.”  Last March he said, “I strongly believe that being pro-life means helping the living by allowing critically important and ethical medical research to go forward.  This research enhances, not diminishes, human life.”

Life is what this work is all about.

So I urge you to make it clear to the dedicated researchers throughout the University of Nebraska system that you recognize their commitment to life and support them in their efforts; that you will stand with them through controversy; that Nebraska will not shrink from its obligation to contribute its talents to this great and promising new era of medical research.

Thank you.”

And thank you, Nebraska.

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