Yesterday marked the beginning of a renewed debate over stem cell research that I hope will allow my colleagues to engage in thoughtful deliberation over an issue in which much has been promised and yet much is still misunderstood.

Last summer I announced that I support expanding the number of stem cell lines currently available for federal funding. Since the federal policy regarding stem cell research was established in 2001, we’ve found that of the 78 stem cell lines promised only 22 lines currently exist. As these limited lines deteriorate, we lose the ability to harness their potential. That is why I believe we must modify our current policy and expand the number of stem cell lines. We can do so without changing our principles for protecting life.

There are three bills currently before the Senate: S.3504, the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act; S.2754, the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act; and H.R.810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Passage of these measures will help spur the next leap forward in stem cell research within clearly defined moral and ethical boundaries that respect both the sanctity of human life and the potential of modern science.

As we move toward votes in the Senate today, I caution us not to over sell advances being made in stem cell research. Biomedical science is constantly evolving, and much basic research remains before we can expect clinical trials and possible treatments. Stem cell research presents one of the first major moral and ethical dilemmas to biomedical research in the 21st century and there is a natural inclination to avoid the difficult debate. However, if we don’t participate in defining research surrounding the culture of life, it will define us.