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Vol. LXI, No. 19
September 18, 2009

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Kennedy Remembered as Friend of NIH

On the front page...

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), who died Aug. 25 of brain cancer, figured prominently in virtually all health and health research legislation since he was elected to the Senate in 1962.

For NIH, his interests coincided with his long tenure on what is now the health, education, labor and pensions committee, which oversees all authorizing legislation relative to NIH.


  Sen. Edward Kennedy (r) confers with Dr. Francis Collins, who was then director of NHGRI, at a December 2006 meeting.  
  Sen. Edward Kennedy (r) confers with Dr. Francis Collins, who was then director of NHGRI, at a December 2006 meeting.  
His interests spanned every health-related topic that flowed through Congress, including genetic nondiscrimination, human fetal tissue transplantation, embryonic stem cells, therapeutic cloning, traumatic brain injury, pediatric cardiovascular disease, juvenile arthritis, bioengineering research, AIDS research (including the establishment of a federal program to address the then-emerging issue of AIDS—the HOPE Act), clinical research, women’s health research, pediatric research, sleep disorders research, study on the use of legal versus illegal drugs, research to improve the quality of life for cancer patients and cancer survivors, minority health and health disparifeatures and patient access to clinical trials.

On his watch, NIDCD, the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Center for Human Genome Research (now NHGRI) were established. NIMH, NIDA and NIAAA were added to NIH. The Office of Alternative Medicine (now NCCAM), the Office of Research on Women’s Health, the Office of Research on Minority Health (now NCMHD), the Office of Rare Diseases Research and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research all came into being. The National Center for Biotechnology Information at NLM, the IDeA program, the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in NHLBI and the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research at NICHD were also created under the auspices of Kennedy’s committee. He championed clinical research, loan repayment, health services research and protection of children through the Best Pharmaceutical Act. He supported other senators who worked for mental health parity, muscular dystrophy research, spinal cord research and countless other causes.

Kennedy was a champion for cancer research early in his career and was the first member of Congress in 1971 to introduce legislation that came to be known as the War on Cancer. He was the primary sponsor of legislation to reauthorize NCI in 1974, which included the first clear and explicit authority regarding peer review after a Nixon administration proposal recommended abolishing the system. Through the years, he continued to support cancer research legislation and had been working with others on renewing the War on Cancer before he was struck down with it himself in May 2008.

In fall 1987, he addressed the advisory committee to the NIH director on America’s “battle against AIDS,” which he called “nothing less than a plague for our times. This growing national and global epidemic has already strained the capacity of the American people—and their leaders—to respond with common sense let alone compassion. I do not have to tell you that unwarranted fears about AIDS already account for a long list of senseless, individual tragedies—not just the loss of employment or housing by many people with AIDS, but their utter abandonment, even by their closest friends and family.”

Also in 1987, Kennedy held the first-ever congressional hearing on AIDS, a disease he decided to make the committee’s “top priority.”

Jean Kennedy Smith, Vicki Kennedy, Sen. Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy Shriver at last year’s ceremony renaming NICHD in Shriver’s honor
Shown above are (from l), Jean Kennedy Smith, Vicki Kennedy, Sen. Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy Shriver at last year’s ceremony renaming NICHD in Shriver’s honor.

When the NIH budget was doubled by Congress in 1998-2003, Kennedy was a firm supporter: “During the debate on the budget resolution…Sen. Connie Mack of Florida, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and I—and others—offered a bipartisan proposal to double NIH funds over the next 5 years…It is hard to imagine a more productive investment in the country’s future,” he said.

In 2003, when President Bush announced Project BioShield during an NIH tour, Kennedy, who sponsored and helped pass the legislation, was in attendance. Three years later, he played a crucial role in securing passage of the NIH Reform Act.

In 2008, when NICHD was renamed for his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Kennedy spoke at the ceremony and greeted NIH staff at a reception. Also last year, Kennedy saw the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law after a legislative battle lasting 13 years. Kennedy, a co-sponsor, was a tireless supporter and activist for this bill, which he described as “the first major new civil rights bill of the new century.”

Last spring, with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Kennedy introduced new legislation to continue his campaign against cancer: the 21st Century Cancer ALERT (Access to Life-Saving Early Detection, Research and Treatment) Act.

Kennedy’s feelings about NIH were summed up in a speech he gave here on Apr. 3, 1978, at the invitation of FAES: “As an institution, [NIH] has compiled an extraordinary record in our history. It embodies American society’s most noble impulses, and guards our people’s hopes for a better life.”

In a statement issued at Kennedy’s passing, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins noted, “Sen. Kennedy was an amazing man—a genuine force of nature. His deep compassion for those in need, and his commitment to improving people’s health, are reflected in the innumerable legislative acts that he championed throughout his long, distinguished career in the Senate. He was one of the strongest, most effective advocates for biomedical research. I know I speak for everyone at NIH when I say that we lost one of our closest, dearest friends.” NIHRecord Icon

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