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Arlen Specter: A Man on a Mission


When U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts goes before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearings next month, another man will also be on center stage, Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the panel's chairman. Senator Specter is also at the center of another debate in Washington -- over embryonic stem cell research. It is a topic close to his heart as he battles late-stage Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a form of cancer. Amy Katz takes a closer look at the man and his mission.

Arlen Specter is 75-years-old and has been a U.S. senator for 25 of those years. And despite his current battle with cancer, he is constantly on the go, from hearings and press conferences to meetings at the White House and the occasional sporting event.

He says he needs to stay busy and feels compelled to push himself. "If I don't push myself to the limit, and I have some spare time and some spare thinking room, I start to think about myself. And I'd rather work than think about myself."

Some have wondered whether he is pushing himself too hard, but he says work is the best thing he can do. He will soon lead the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, in his role as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is also managing some of the most contentious issues facing the U.S. Congress.

Among them: funding for federal health care programs; and rewriting the Patriot Act -- anti-terrorism legislation enacted in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S.

In addition, there is an intensely personal piece of legislation Senator Specter is working on. It would lift a U.S. ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He says, not only would such research help others, but it might have helped him. "They might well have found a prevention so that Arlen Specter didn't get Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer."

Senator Specter wants government funding for research on stem cells from embryos that fertility clinics would otherwise discard. Some of his fellow Republicans says that is the destruction of a potential life.

Senator Specter freely admits that is not what he's worried about right now, as was recently in evidence during this exchange with Senator Sam Brownback on the ABC News broadcast, "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." Senator Brownback asks him, "When did your life start?" Senator Specter answers, "Well Sam, I'm a lot more concerned at this point about when my life is going to end."

Senator Specter is fighting the exhaustion that comes with his chemotherapy treatments and says he is trying now to focus on life. He carries an hourglass with him, for people with life-threatening diseases who are still waiting for cures. It also reminds him of how much he still wants to do. Senator Specter further explains, "When you look at an hour glass, there's a depiction of mortality. We're all here for a limited period of time."

Senator Specter's goal is to make every minute count.

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