Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By Vice President Al Gore
Fighting For America's Families
Thursday, June 1, 2000
I’m honored to be here at Emory University’s Medical Centeran institution
which has made so many landmark contributions to preventing and treating
As we enter the 21st Century, we can see already that it’s a time in which
human curiosity is ushering in new marvels of science and technology. I’ve
come here to talk about the new hope that comes with that new sciencefor
cancer patients and their families, all across this nation.
Let me begin by sharing a story. Two years ago, I met a woman named Camari
Ferguson. Working as a researcher, she is on the front lines of the fight
against prostate cancer at the Fred Hutchinson Center Research Center near
But for her, that fight is also deeply personal. Three years ago, a week
before she turned 33, Camari learned that she had breast cancer. She had
surgery on her birthday.
But like so many cancer survivors, she decided to be not a victim but a
champion. In her lifeas in the laboratoryshe fought back.
Throughout difficult months of radiation and chemotherapy, she rode her
bike to and from work23 miles each way every day. During Breast Cancer
Awareness Month, she asked her friends to make a new donation for every new
day she was able to ride. She raised thousands of dollars for the Race for
the Curea race we ran together in Seattle.
At that race, we talked about how we both hoped to climb Mount Rainier. And
last summerjust few weeks after I reached the summit with my son AlbertCamari made her climb to the top.
Next Friday, Camari will mark her third year of being cancer-free. She is
standing on top of the mountain.
And even as Camari wins her battle against breast cancer, she is still there
at the Fred Hutchinson Centerworking to free Americans from the prostate
cancer which claims as many men as breast cancer kills women.
Camari’s story is proof of what any cancer survivor will tell you: the power
to fight cancer comes from the heart, and from the human spirit. But most
of all, it comes from being able to imagine a day when you are cancer-free;
a day when you reach the summit of that mountain.
And so I want to ask all of you to imagine with me the steps we can take
in this decade, in this generationtoward an America that is cancer-free.
Imagine waking up and reading in the newspaper that not one American had
died from colon cancer or prostate cancer. Not a single one.
Imagine the day when a simple blood test can detect every kind of cancer
early enough to treat it and save a life.
Imagine how it would feel to visit a museum with your children, and show
them a radiation machine in permanent retirementstanding next to an iron
lung as a rusty relic from the past.
I am here to share the good news with Americaabout what many of you
already know: that day is within our reach.
Just weeks ago, we learned that American cancer rates are now falling faster
than ever beforeand that cancer death rates have seen their biggest drop
And the pace of new scientific breakthroughs is astonishing. Let me share a
few recent milestones:
The first results of a hormone and radiation therapy that can reduce the
recurrence of breast cancer in the breast by more than 80 percent;
The announcement of a combination of radiation and chemotherapy that,
combined with surgery, may increase patients’ survival rate for gastric
cancer by half;
A molecular therapy that shows a 100 percent response rate in patients with
a certain chronic leukemia, who have failed to respond to all other kinds of
These breakthroughs have been announced not in the last three years, or even
in the last three monthsbut in the last three weeks.
Imagine what's going to happen in the next three weeks.
In fact, we are no more than a few weeks away from one of the greatest
breakthroughs in human history. Sometime this summer, a rough draft of the
Human Genome, the complete sequencing of all the genes in the human body.
Within the next few years, scientists will identify the genes that cause
every type of cancer. Let me tell you why I think that's so important.
For years, people have talked about our struggle against cancer as a war.
Many historians say that the real turning point in World War II was when we
cracked the Nazis’ secret code. It took years. But once the code was
deciphered, we intercepted our enemy's messages and won the war. One of our
soldiers who was intimately involved with this project, Gordon Sperry, said
that once the secret code was broken, “it did everything for uswe knew
where all the divisions were, we knew where the generals were.” The
intercepted messages were the key to the victory against Rommel in North
Africa. The code was the key to the victory at Anzio, the first beachhead
in Europe. It was critical to the landing at Normandy and to the success of
the campaign that began there. And because the Japanese came to use the
same secret code, it was the key to our success at the battle of Midway,
which turned the tide in the Pacific.
With the completion of the Human Genome, we are on the verge of cracking
another enemy’s secret code. When we intercept and decipher the coded
messages that cancer send from cell to cell, we will turn the tide, and win
the war against cancer.
We may soon move beyond early detection, to early preventionso we and
those we love can stop cancer before it has a chance to start.
We can develop a new generation of cancer treatments that free families from
the pain of surgery or chemotherapy. One day soon, cancer treatments may no
longer be as painful as the disease itself.
Like so many of you, when I hear the word “cancer,” I see the faces of
friends and neighbors who have been stricken; I see the people I have met
across this country who have battled back with unyielding courage and
determination. I have seen children whose lives have been saved by the
chance to take part in clinical trials. And I have talked with people who
volunteered for new treatment trials, knowing their own lives would probably
not be saved, but hoping to save the lives of others.
I know from my own family’s experience what cancer can do to a family. Many
of us here have made sense of a loss by rededicating ourselves to the hope
of a cure for others’ loved ones.
I pledge to you today: if I am entrusted with the Presidency, I will work
with you to put the same energy and priority into fighting cancer that we
would put into preventing a war that could take 500,000 American lives every
year. The stakes are that great.
It was nearly forty years ago that President Kennedy set a national goal of
putting a man on the moonto reach beyond our own horizons, and explore
Today, we have the capacity to reach not just outward, but inwarddeep
within the DNA of the human body, to see the blueprint of human disease; to
find new tools for healing and hope.
I believe it is time to set a new national goalto match our resources and
our national will to the promise of this moment.
If I am entrusted with the Presidency, I will work to double federal cancer
research, to double our progress in preventing cancer and saving lives. If
we do this, we can save the lives of 700,000 Americans who would have died
of cancer over the next decade. Think about that: these are people we know;
they could be people in this very room.
And as we work to fight all cancer, let us reach for a new and higher goal
one that challenges our capacity, but may now be within reach: within ten
years, no one in America should have to die from colon cancer, breast
cancer, or prostate cancer.
We may not get there, and certain forms of these diseases may be beyond our
reach. But of this much we can be certain: if we don’t set the goal, we
will never get there.
To meet these goals, I am today proposing a major national cancer-fighting
initiative, that is built upon two fundamental principles. First, we need
an aggressive national commitment to cancer research and cure. Second, we
need to bring the latest breakthroughs to every family, through a new a
national commitment to cancer care and treatment.
I am releasing the full details of my plan today. But I want to highlight
its basic goals and principles.
First, I want our government to be not an obstacle, but a strong ally as we
move toward a new generation of treatment and cure.
By doubling federal cancer research, we will triple the number of
cancer-fighting drugs and therapies that reach cancer patients. And we will
help the nation’s scientists to develop simple blood tests and new
diagnostic techniques for every major cancerso we can find it earlier,
with more certainty than any method we have today.
We will support powerful new computer technology that can help us target the
most promising areas of research and medicine. And then we have to not only
speed up the developments of new drugs, we have to bring them to patients
sooner. We need our FDA to be as modern as our best sciencewhile
maintaining essential health and safety standards.
Second, we have to do more to help people avoid cancerand to help people
who have it. The best science will be of little use if we don’t make it
real in the lives of our families.
To begin with, people can’t even begin to conquer cancer if they don’t have
health insurance. It is time to move step-by-step to universal health
coverage in Americastarting with all children. The health of a cancer
patient should never be determined by his or her family's wealth.
We have to widen access to cutting-edge clinical trialsfor they not only
save lives, they break down new barriers to understanding and curing cancer.
Today, most children with cancer are enrolled in clinical trialsand
partly because of their access to the latest and best treatments, their
survival rates have risen dramatically. Four decades ago, almost no child
survived cancer. Now, 70 to 80 percent are cured.
Yet only three percent of all cancer patients are enrolled in cutting-edge
clinical trialswhich is part of the reason why the cure rate for all
cancer patients is far lower than that for children.
I will ensure a fivefold increase in cancer clinical trials through our
National Cancer Institute. I will work to see that every health plan in
America should be required by law to cover essential clinical trials. We
have to expand Medicare, so more seniors can take part in more clinical
trialsand we must act now, by law or by executive action, to get this
done. Together, let’s be sure that every American who has cancer also has
the most up-to-date treatments America has to offer.
I will expand common-sense cancer prevention. And I’ll start by making
low-cost cancer tests available to those who don't have access to them todayand I’ll fight to expand health coverage to those whose tests detect
I’ll make sure seniors on Medicare don’t have to pay a dime in co-payments
or deductibles for early detection tests. And I’ll create a new “fast
track” approval process so that Medicare always covers the latest cancer
tests. We cannot allow anything to discourage seniors from getting the
latest and best of life-saving tests.
And as we reform health care, we must work to ensure that every health plan
covers these tests.
I want to encourage the private sector to be a partner in promoting cancer
screening and prevention. We’re working to have the federal government
follow the example of Boston, and give employees time off work for cancer
screening. I urge private companies to do the same.
We have to address the unacceptable variation in cancer care today. And we
can never accept the racial disparities in cancer rates and fatalities. For
example, African Americans are one-third more likely to die of cancer than
white Americansand we’ve got to change that.
We need to raise up the quality of care for all cancer patients. I’m going
to demand high standards and the same up-to-date guidelines for cancer
treatmenteverywhere, and for everyone in the nation. Where you live
shouldn’t determine your medical quality of life.
We should also make sure families know if there are special cancer risks in
their neighborhoods. We should work with industry create a full registry of
environmental health risks that could lead to cancer. Parents can’t protect
their children from dangers they aren't told aboutand they have a right
We must make the Patients’ Bill of Rights the law of this land. If you’re
in the middle of chemotherapy, you shouldn’t be forced to stop treatment
because your employer changes health plans. All cancer patients deserve the
right kind of care, when and where they need it.
And we must ban genetic discrimination once and for all. Americans should
never be forced to risk their jobs or their health coverage because they are
at risk for cancer. Genetic discrimination is wrongand it should be
illegal in the United States of America.
There is one more thing we can do to dramatically reduce cancer in America
and it doesn't take a scientific breakthrough. It takes a breakthrough of
It is time to treat underage smoking like the urgent national health crisis
it is. We must dramatically reduce teen smoking in America.
We must reaffirm the full authority of the FDA to keep cigarettes away from
children. In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision which challenges
that authority, I call on Congress to give the FDA unequivocal power over
this issue, including the power to impose tough financial penalties on
companies that market to children.
We must match the tobacco companies’ big advertising campaign with national
counter-advertising about the dangers of smoking and the risks of cancer.
And we must double our investment in efforts to prevent smokingso we can
prevent more cancer, and so we can find new ways to break the grip of
The issue isn't easyand there are entrenched interests on the other
side. But it's an issue where we can never give up, and never give in. I
promise you: I never will.
The steps I am announcing today are realistic, and the goals I am setting
are achievable. We can and must harness the wonders of today’s scientific
discoveries, to keep people healthy and alive. We can and must bring the
best of treatment and prevention to millions of Americans.
What is vital is not just to raise our commitment, but to raise our nation’s
Some say it is impossible to find the answer for many forms of cancer.
One hundred years ago, they said the same thing about smallpox. Sixty years
ago, they said the same thing about polio.
They were wrong thenand pioneers and activists such as all of you
convince me that the naysayers are wrong today.
There is no single track on which we can run this race. But this is a
singular time of dramatic progresshere at Emory, and in hospitals and
laboratories across America.
By doubling our commitment to the fight against cancerby making a major
national commitment to research, innovation, treatment, and prevention
and, most importantly of all, by harnessing America’s greatest scientific
insights to the service of our best values of love for our people and care
for their well-beingwe can see a time, in our lifetimes, when we don’t
just race for the cure, we cross the finish line. Thank you.