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Mary Tyler Moore Testifies Before Congress to Promote Juvenile Diabetes Research

Aired June 26, 2001 - 10:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We take you live now to Capitol Hill -- a very familiar face testifying, actress Mary Tyler Moore speaking to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee about trying to find more research dollars for diabetes.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MARY TYLER MOORE, ACTRESS: ... and reach out to you, their representatives.

Once again, it is my privilege to chair the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Children's Congress. And this year we've brought twice as many delegates, 200 children with type I diabetes, because we have twice as much to do.

First, we must thank you for keeping your promise. Second, we must challenge you, just as each of us here has challenged ourselves to do more.

First things first: Thank you.

We are grateful that you remembered us last year by approving legislation that provides a historic increase of juvenile diabetes research funding at the NIH: $240 million new dollars over three years. We are grateful to the Congress and the Bush administration, even with other programs' growth being constrained, have recommitted themselves to the bipartisan effort to double funding for the NIH, an action that surely will result in more research to find a cure for diabetes and its complications.

So, again, for all of you who have done so much to keep your promise these past two years, we thank you.

Of course, you have...

(APPLAUSE)

... you have not been left alone in this -- in the important efforts you've made. We never ask others to do something that we here are not going to ask of ourselves. So we have been and will remain your partners in this purpose.

As evidence of our dedication to finding a cure since the last Children's Congress, JDRF has more than doubled our own funding of diabetes research, from $55 million in 1999 to $120 million in 2001. And we project spending $150 million next year.

We, too, made a promise to ourselves, these children, our loved ones. So the stakes for us are very real and very personal.

Many of you know that I have had juvenile diabetes for more than 30 years. And like each of these children, I struggle every day to do what happens naturally for nondiabetics. Though to most of you, metabolic balance is as automatic as breathing, to people with juvenile diabetes, like me, it requires 24-7-365 vigilance, constant factoring and adjusting, frequent finger sticks every day to check blood sugar levels, and multiple daily insulin injections just to stay alive.

Even with the greatest of care and closest of personal scrutiny, I find that I am often unable to achieve good balance with my sugars. They are dangerously low or frighteningly high. Yes, dangerous and frightening because, frankly, serious lows can lead to seizures, coma, and death. And highs over the long term result in life-limiting and life-shortening complications, like blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart disease and stroke.

Diabetes is an all-too-personal time bomb which can go off today, tomorrow, next year or 10 years from now, a time bomb affecting millions like me and the children here today. This reality is made all too clear by the recent, sudden death of a young friend, Danielle Alberti (ph). Danielle was 31. She was an aspiring artist and the daughter of one of JDRF's most active and generous volunteer leaders.

Though rapidly losing her vision due to diabetic retinopathy, Danielle stuck to her dream of becoming a painter and was pursuing her career when she recently, like too many young adults with type I diabetes, developed kidney failure.

People with diabetes-related kidney failure don't do well on dialysis. So kidney transplant was her only real option. With her doctor's guidance, she and her mother decided to return home together to Australia, where her chances for a transplant were greater. But Danielle didn't survive the flight. She died at 30,000 feet, seeking comfort in her mother's arms. Her last words were, "Mom, hold me."

Chairman Levin, Senator Collins, members, we're here again because of our children, our loved ones with diabetes. They look to us for comfort, for a way to stop their suffering. And we are determined to find it.

The good news today is that, since the last Children's Congress, we have achieved a critical research milestone. In May of 2000, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and subsequently elsewhere, researchers have successfully transplanted insulin- producing islet cells into men and women with juvenile diabetes, restoring normal blood sugars. This reproducible, clinical success is the first significant proof of a scientific principle that JDRF has long led in promoting, that insulin-producing cells can be transplanted into patients with even the most severe cases of juvenile diabetes and normal blood sugars achieved without insulin injections.

Quite simply, these findings are the first real clinical evidence that a cure is within our grasp. But that is -- there is a "however" to this positive news. As encouraging as these results are -- and they are -- the cure will remain out of reach unless we can overcome two very important obstacles. One, this first group of islet transplant patients must take potentially toxic immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives. And this makes islet transplantation, in its current stage of development, too risky for children and all those whose lives are immediately threatened.

The other major obstacle is the lack of supply. The only current source for islets suitable to transplant are cadaver pancreases. And in the United States, less than 2,000 such pancreases become available for transplantation each year. If tomorrow, we had the perfect solution to immune tolerance, we would still only be able to offer islet transplantation to a tiny fraction of the millions of people with diabetes who might benefit.

There is hope, though, just an alternative: An inexhaustible supply of islet cells can be created, hope that very much depends on actions you, your colleagues and the administration choose to take. The hope I refer to resides in the potential of embryonic stem cells to be coaxed to be developed into any cell in the body, including islet cells. This would solve the islet cell supply problem.

Of course, the promise of stem cell research is not exclusive to patients with diabetes. Stem cell research could help as many as 100 million Americans who suffer from a variety of chronic illnesses, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, heart failure and cancer.

So I am here today to urge each of you, your colleagues and the Bush administration to support federal funding of stem cell research. This can be done immediately by allowing the NIH to act within its ethical guidelines it approved in August of 2000.

I understand that support for this research raises concern among people of goodwill, each trying to do what is right based on their very personal religious and moral beliefs. I have not shied away from this personal soul-searching, nor has JDRF in its policymaking, nor should anyone. I have found comfort in my heartfelt view that embryonic stem cell research is truly life-affirming. It is a direct outcome of a young family making a choice without coercion or compensation to donate a fertilized egg not used for in vitro fertilization, for research, an egg that otherwise would have been discarded.

Because of the great potential of stem cell research, donating an unused fertilized egg is much like the life-giving choice a mother whose child has died tragically in an automobile accident makes when donating his organs to save another mother's child. It is the true pinnacle of charity to give life to another.

Federal support for stem cell research is an extension of this affirmation of life and is the best way to ensure it is undertaken with the highest of ethical standards. Chairman Levin, Senator Collins, members, to borrow a phrase, "diabetes ain't beanbag." My 30-plus years of diabetes has led to visual impairment, painful neuropathy, the threat of limb loss from poorly healing foot wounds and peripheral vascular disease, which has started to limit how far I can walk. I push through all of this just as each of the children here today push through the burdens imposed by diabetes. Because we are a determined lot, none of us is willing to be deterred.

We all share the firm conviction that through our efforts and the help of friends, like the members of this committee, we will find a way to stop the suffering and the pain and restore balance.

Please listen to the stories of the children here today and promise to remember all of us who suffer from juvenile diabetes. And then you make decisions that will impact research.

The cure is truly within our grasp. Together, we will find it. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

KAGAN: You've been listening to actress Mary Tyler Moore as she testifies before the Senate Government Affairs Committee on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Association -- Ms. Moore obviously having a long time experience with juvenile diabetes. She spoke very emotionally of her experience of the 30 years that she has fought the disease.

She's there before Congress to ask for more funding research, for more dollars, and especially more dollars to go to stem cell research, which she believes -- and many people in the diabetes community believe -- will help find a cure for diabetes. That is controversial, of course, because the number of people believing that stem cell research, which comes from embryos, starts with a life and sacrifices a life.

More discussion on that ahead. Also, there's about 200 kids with Mary Tyler Moore with her on Congress. Stay tuned. Many of them will be testifying before those senators.

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