A New Hope for Congress

Shelbie Oppenheimer wants to see her daughter grow up.

Yes, politics and policy can sometimes be that simple. People on the campaign trail often comment on how hard it must be to run for office. They ask me: why put in the hours? Why shake the endless hands? Why meet the countless folks?

The answer is simple: the chance to meet – and one day help – courageous people like Shelbie.

Shelbie lives just outside of Philadelphia in New Hope, with her husband and eight year old daughter Isabel. A little over a decade ago she noticed a slight twitch and weakness in her left hand. Like most of us, she didn’t think too much about it. A few months later, she noticed the muscles in her hand had deteriorated further, so she and her husband sought medical advice. After a barrage of tests, she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - a fatal disease that will eventually leave her unable to walk, talk or breathe.

She was 28 years old.
Consistent with her nature, Shelbie vowed to fight this diagnosis, and the Oppenheimer family looked to embryonic stem cell research as their best, and perhaps only, hope to fulfill Shelbie’s dream of seeing Isabel grow up. Since her diagnosis, she has testified before House and Senate Committees and raised money for further research. She has talked to members of the community, and across the country to bring attention to the hope and promise of stem cell research.

It is hard to imagine the outrage they felt when their own Representative – Mike Fitzpatrick – flip-flopped on his campaign promise and voted against expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

There are countless stories of heartache and hope across America similar to the Oppenheimer’s. While the details of each family certainly vary, the one constant is the promise of embryonic stem cell research.

Despite the fact that Americans overwhelmingly support stem cell research, President Bush used his very first veto to outlaw the use of federal funds to be spent on this life-saving research. The proposal, which passed in both the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Republican-led Senate, would have allowed research only on those embryos slated to be discarded at in vitro fertilization clinics. This is important to repeat – if these embryos are not used for scientific research they will be thrown away. Even within these strict parameters, scientists have touted embryonic stem cell research as our best chance to create new treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and to help people like Shelbie suffering with ALS.

The real chance to improve the lives of countless Americans has led prominent conservative Republicans like Bill Frist and John Danforth not only to support the bill, but speak out about how embryonic stem cell research is consistent with their “pro-life