The Truth Behind the Michael J. Fox Stem Cell Research Deception

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 2, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

The Truth Behind the Michael J. Fox Stem Cell Research Deception Email this article
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by Wesley J. Smith
November 2, 2006 Note: Award winning author Wesley J. Smith is special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. His current book is Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.

Actor Michael J. Fox burst into the news recently when he taped a series of political television ads supporting Democrat U.S. Senate candidates in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Maryland. Political advocacy by movie stars is nothing new, of course. But Fox’s ads were different.

Struck at a tragically young age with Parkinson’s disease, Fox used his pronounced physical symptoms to shock people into supporting "stem cell research" as the "hope for cures."

The controversy grew white hot when talk radio star Rush Limbaugh suggested that Fox was either "acting" or had "not taken his medications" in order to make a more shocking appearance in the ads. Limbaugh also chastised the actor for deceiving the voters by hiding the fact that he, Fox, was actually supporting human cloning.

Limbaugh was off the mark about Fox being off his meds: The actor claimed that he was actually over-medicated, which inadvertently exacerbated his physical symptoms. But Limbaugh was on the money when he accused Fox of engaging in deception by hiding his support for human cloning. As proof, we need only review the relevant text from the ad that played in Missouri:

As you might know I care deeply about stem cell research. In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill who shares my hope for cures. Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope.

Rarely have so few words conveyed such a profoundly deceptive message. When Fox uses the term "stem cell research," he is actually referring to embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), which is highly controversial because it requires the destruction of nascent human life.

Moreover, the "stem cell research" that Senator Talent supposedly wanted to "criminalize" isn’t stem cell research at all: It is human somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), better known as human cloning.

Cloning advocates like Fox pretend that SCNT is a synonym for ESCR. But they are diametrically different processes.

In human SCNT, an embryo is brought into being through the same "asexual" process by which Dolly the sheep was created. In contrast, ESCR destroys an already existing human embryo–whether created through fertilization or, theoretically, through cloning–to derive its embryonic stem cells. Thus SCNT creates embryonic life, and ESCR destroys it; which are not the same thing at all.

Fox taped a similarly deceptive ad for use in Maryland, stating in part, "Stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans with diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s." But it is well known that ES embryonic stem cells are highly unlikely to effectively treat Alzheimer’s. This is because Alzheimer’s is a whole brain disease involving billions of different neurons, synapses, and nerve tissues, which makes it highly unlikely to respond to ES cell therapies.

But cruelly exploiting the hopes and yearnings of Alzheimer’s patients and their families is par for the pro-cloning course. Indeed, one notable biotech researcher told the Washington Post that the biotech sector permits Alzheimer’s patients and their families to believe false assertions such as Fox’s because "people need a fairy tale."

Michael J. Fox’s ads exemplify what is so wrong with the larger pro-cloning political campaign: Long on hype, steeped in deceit, preying on the fears of disease victims, exploitive of our national fixation with celebrities, and appealing strictly to the emotions so that we will "feel" rather than "think," the ads were a profound disservice those striving to grapple with the crucial ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem cell research and human cloning.