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Town Hall
En Espanol

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 Center—an institution which has made so many landmark contributions to preventing and treating cancer.

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 science—for 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 Seattle.

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 life—as in the laboratory—she fought back. Throughout difficult months of radiation and chemotherapy, she rode her bike to and from work—23 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 Cure—a race we ran together in Seattle.

At that race, we talked about how we both hoped to climb Mount Rainier. And last summer—just few weeks after I reached the summit with my son Albert—Camari 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 Center—working 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 generation—toward 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 retirement—standing next to an iron lung as a rusty relic from the past.

I am here to share the good news with America—about 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 before—and that cancer death rates have seen their biggest drop in history.

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 therapy.

These breakthroughs have been announced not in the last three years, or even in the last three months—but 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 us—we 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 prevention—so 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 moon—to reach beyond our own horizons, and explore outer space.

Today, we have the capacity to reach not just outward, but inward—deep 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 goal—to 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 cancer—so 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 science—while maintaining essential health and safety standards.

Second, we have to do more to help people avoid cancer—and 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 America—starting 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 trials—for they not only save lives, they break down new barriers to understanding and curing cancer.

Today, most children with cancer are enrolled in clinical trials—and 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 trials—which 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 trials—and 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 today—and I’ll fight to expand health coverage to those whose tests detect cancer.

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 Americans—and 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 treatment—everywhere, 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 about—and they have a right to know.

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 wrong—and 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 political will.

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 smoking—so we can prevent more cancer, and so we can find new ways to break the grip of nicotine addiction.

The issue isn't easy—and 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 sights.

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 then—and 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 progress—here at Emory, and in hospitals and laboratories across America.

By doubling our commitment to the fight against cancer—by 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-being—we can see a time, in our lifetimes, when we don’t just race for the cure, we cross the finish line. Thank you.



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