Stem Cell Bill Senate Contribution by Sen. Alexander Storr

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Senator Alex Storr

Madame President, fellow Senators, Good Morning.

Before I begin my contribution to this debate, I wish to express my support and prayers for those persons, and their families, that are still lost at sea after last weekend’s tragedy between Exuma and Long Island.  We pray for their safe return but at the same time, find comfort in the fact that whatever the Lord does is well done, even if we struggle to understand it.   Secondly, I wish the thousands of boys and girls of our nation every success in the coming school year. I pray that all of our students realize the importance of a good education in today’s world and take advantage of the opportunity that they have to obtain knowledge.  The youth are the future of this great nation and I all wish them well.  Included in this number is my son Alex Jr., who is beginning his final year of high school, and my daughter Alyssa who is beginning her first year of high school.  I expect great things from the both of them and I will be right there to guide them along the way.

Madam President, once again, we on this side are alone in our desire to work on behalf of the good people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.  A job that we are paid to perform.  A job that I and my colleagues on this side take very seriously.  We put this great work above petty politics and self promotion. This job is about making a difference for the benefit of the people we serve, our fellow Bahamians.  But Madame President, I submit, that they feel free to abandon their posts without fear because they know the country is in good hands under the leadership of The Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie and the Progressive Liberal Party.

Madame President, I have spoken to many  Bahamians regarding stem cell therapy, having done so what has become clear to me is the fact that there is a lack of understanding on the issue.  This lack of understanding in my estimation stems in part from the direction which debate on this subject took in that other place.  Instead of debating the actual issue of stem cell research, the FNM’s chose to muddy the waters on the issue by accusing parliamentarians of corruption and by supporting the shenanigans of their party leader.  This after multiple members of their side voiced publicly their support for Stem Cell Research in The Bahamas.  The Deputy Leader of the opposition party even went so far as to call this same legislation “progressive”. Mrs. Butler Turner was quoted in one of the local morning dailies on July 8th, 2013 as saying, “It is something that I support. Quite frankly I think it is very progressive.”  She was quoted in that same article as saying that her leader, Dr. Minnis “confused” her by opposing the bill.  Madame President this comes as no surprise to me.  It is a tactic that the FNM has perfected.  They would rather rob the country of the benefits of such ground breaking legislation to gain political brownie points.  But I too am confused by the opposition to this legislation by the FNM party leader given that he approved the operation of a clinic which operated in Grand Bahama.  A clinic were stem cell research was carried out.  Their argument is as weak as water.  It’s a good idea, but The Bahamas is not ready? The Bahamas is not ready now for the regulation of stem cell research but was ready then for it to be done without legislation or regulation? This makes no sense.

Madam President, this ‘not now’ mantra coming from the FNM is not new. It was the same with independence, it was the same with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, and it was the same with National Insurance.  Imagine where we would be had we listened to the FNM on those occasions.

Most recently we also saw it in the debate for National Health Insurance and now countless of our fellow Bahamians are still dying because they can not afford diagnostic testing or prescribed treatment for their ailments. Madame President I think that many lives could have been saved from 2007 to now if the FNM were less concerned with their politics and more concerned about nation building and the welfare of our people.

Madame President, I have no experience in the medical field so this subject is just as foreign to me as it is to a lot of Bahamians.  During my research on the subject, I came across a definition that brought me to a new level of understanding.  I quote the following from the website www.stemcellresearchfacts.org :   “A stem cell is essentially a “blank” cell, capable of becoming another differentiated cell type in the body, such as skin, a muscle cell, or a nerve cell.  Microscopic in size, stem cells are big news in medical and science circles because they can be used to replace or even heal damaged tissues and cells in the body.  They can serve as a built-in repair system for the human body, replenishing other cells as long as a person is still alive”.  Madame President, Stem Cell Therapy is at the forefront of current medical treatment.  As it is with all new treatments, there are misconceptions and misinformation mostly emanating from those who are not properly informed.  When doctors first started performing organ transplants, I can imagine what was said by the sceptics then.  It was probably the same arguments that we are hearing now about stem cell therapy.  But can you imagine where we would be now without organ transplants, prosthetic limbs or pace makers?  Even before preparing for this debate, I read stories of the breakthroughs that stem cell therapy and research have provided.  I am referring to the restoration of sight, the ability to walk again, the regrowth of skin and replacement organs.  Or the curing of once incurable diseases such as kidney and bladder ailments.  Madame President, these are some of the same chronic ailments that currently afflict many of our friends and relatives at this very moment.  I believe that this bill before us is a key to unlock the door that will one day provide relief to all of those out there under the sound of my voice who may suffer from something that at one time was deemed debilitating or even fatal.  Madame President we are a part of a global community.  The research that will be done here will not only benefit Bahamians, but the entire world.

Madame President, unfortunately where there is the capacity to do good, there is also the potential for abuse.  When one reads Section Six (6) of this bill, it is clear that there is the possibility of Stem Cell Therapy to be used in an adverse manner.  But that is exactly what Section Six (6) guards against.  This caring government led by the Rt. Honourable Perry G. Christie realises that the PLP government does not exist in a vacuum.  Section  six of this legislation makes it plain for all to see what will NOT be condoned in The Bahamas as it relates to Stem Cell Research.

This bill was created with the full consultation of the country’s religious community.  We do not operate as the FNM did by shoving legislation and policies down the public’s throat.  We heard the concerns in terms of Embryonic Stem Cells and this bill guards against those controversial procedures.  Madame President, this bill is not to allow Stem Cell Therapy as some may think.  The FNM aided by then Minister of Health Dr. Hubert Minnis did that, and did so in an anything goes atmosphere. Perhaps allowing for some of the same procedures and methods that many are concerned about to be carried out.  This bill seeks to regulate Stem Cell Research and Therapy and ensure that our local labs conform to internationally accepted best practises and guidelines.  Madame President these regulations should have been in place before the first license was even considered.  Once again we have a case of the FNM putting the cart before the horse, for whatever reason.  Madame Presidnet, I could speak to the “word on the street” regarding this, but I will not stoop to the FNM’s level.  Once again the PLP is left to clean up the mess that the FNM has left behind.  It is no wonder they have worked so hard to misdirect the attention of the Bahamian public. I watched in disgust the proceedings in that other place as the member for Killarney did his best at performing the classic FNM smoke and mirror manoeuvre.  He  showed blatant disregard for the authority of the Speaker of the House, with the support of his colleagues. Dr. Minnis and his colleagues also displayed disrespect for the fine men and women of the Royal Bahamas Police Force setting a poor example for the citizens of this nation.  It is once again all to disguise the FNM’s own mishandling of the peoples affairs.  It would seem that petty politics over the good and benefit of the Bahamian people is the modus operandi of the FNM.  But Madame President, all hope is not lost.  As the PLP has clearly shown that we believe in Bahamians.  We believe that Bahamians are fully capable of running the affairs of their country for themselves.  We believe that Bahamians can patrol their own borders and protect themselves.  We believe that Bahamians deserve the countless benefits that have come with the creation of the National Insurance Board.  We believe that all Bahamians deserve affordable life saving medical coverage that they will soon receive.  And we believe that Bahamians deserve the life saving benefits and ground breaking treatments that this research will create and are fully capable of enforcing and regulating the research that goes along with the enactment of this legislation. Along with the medical benefits to our people is the potential economical benefit that can be yielded through investment and medical tourism.  This will no doubt create jobs for Bahamians in this and related fields.

Madame President, it takes a leader with vision to see these things, and that is exactly what we have in the person of The Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie.  No matter how those on the other side attempt to sully his name, he stands firm and he stands strong to all the criticisms.  The people of The Bahamas know that he is a caring, compassionate, leader of vision. He is the right man for the job.  A man who truly believes in Bahamians.

Madame President, that being said, I look forward to the countless benefits, told and untold, nationally and internationally, that the passage of this bill will enable.  The many lives that will be saved, the many lives that will be changed for the better.  Madame President, let us remember that this bill is larger than any one personality, larger than any one political party.  This is about changing lives, the lives of everyday, ordinary, men and women of The Bahamas.  At this moment, Stem Cell Therapy may seem unattainable to them for various reasons, but I sincerely believe that through this legislation and the work that will be done here in The Bahamas,  Stem Cell Therapy will one day become as affordable and as routine as many other forms of treatment that once seemed only for the rich and well connected.

Madam President, in my estimation the Free National Movement missed a golden opportunity to show the Bahamian people their political maturity.  This is an issue that should have become a national debate and not the antics of the side opposite and their leader.  Madame President, I fully support this bill.