ST. LOUIS — Days after Michael J. Fox, whose acting career has been curtailed by Parkinson's disease, appeared in a TV ad urging Missouri voters to support stem cell research, opponents will unveil their own commercial using athletes and entertainers to convey their message.
Baseball stars Jeff Suppan and Mike Sweeney, and actors Patricia Heaton and Jim Caviezel appear in the minute-long ad.
"Amendment 2 claims it bans human cloning, but in the 2,000 words you don't read, it makes cloning a constitutional right," Suppan says in the commercial. "Don't be deceived."
Local politics, national issue
The proposed amendment to the state constitution would provide constitutional protections for embryonic stem cell research in Missouri. A referendum on Amendment 2 will be decided during congressional elections on Nov. 7. Referendums are often included in general elections as a practical matter.
The 30-second spot featuring Fox, 45, who sways uncontrollably in the ad due to his Parkinson's disease, is actually a commercial for Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill. But the Senate race and stem cell issue are intertwined - McCaskill's Republican opponent, Sen. Jim Talent, opposes the stem cell measure.
Fox has lent his celebrity to other Democrats, including Congressman Benjamin L. Cardin, running for the Senate in Maryland, and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who is seeking re-election. Both politicians also back stem cell research.
"They say all politics is local, but it's not always the case," Fox says in the ad that began airing Saturday. "What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans - Americans like me."
The Fox ad has triggered a backlash, with some criticizing it as exploitive. Conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh claimed Fox was "either off his medication or acting," though he later apologized.
Dr. John Boockvar, a neurosurgeon and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical Center at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, called Limbaugh's claim "ludicrous." Boockvar said those with Parkinson's have "on" and "off" spells.
"If there is one single disease that has the highest potential for benefit from stem cell research," Boockvar said Tuesday, "it's Parkinson's."
The Missouri ad opposing Amendment 2 was finished Tuesday and was immediately available on the Internet. Missourians Against Human Cloning spokeswoman Cathy Ruse said the ad was already in the works, "but we sped up production after the Michael J. Fox ad came out.
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"That ad claims opponents want to criminalize research and prevent the expansion of stem cell research. Those claims are just false and misleading," Ruse said. "Our gripe with Amendment 2 is it creates a right to do human cloning and it creates the right to human egg trafficking for cloning research."
Connie Farrow, a spokeswoman for Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, a supporter of the amendment, called the opponents' ad "a pathetic attempt to distort the facts and mislead voters."
"To believe the claims made in their ad you'd have to believe that over 100 nonprofit patient and medical organizations, including the Missouri State Medical Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, just to name a few, are conspiring to mislead voters," Farrow said. "And that defies commonsense."
Politics of celebrity
Celebrities have a long history of supporting political candidates. But there's no question that Fox is uniquely suited as a spokesman for stem cell research. The star of the "Back to the Future" films, shakes and rocks as he directly addresses the camera, the effects of his disease clearly apparent.
"The reason that he's powerful is that he's comparatively young," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director for the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. "As a result, a lot of people in that age range can look at him and say, `If that can happen to him, it can happen to me.'"
Jamieson noted that the stem cell issue has the potential to be an advantage to Democrats in the November elections since polls have shown the majority of Americans favor some form of stem cell research. Critics say it requires the destruction of a human embryo.
The risk, Jamieson added, is that the ads could appear as using Fox's hopes for a cure for political gain, as some claimed was the case when the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve lobbied for stem cell research before his death in 2004.
Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder of the central nervous system that leaves patients increasingly unable to control their movements.
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