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Reeve doubted embryonic stem-cell research

Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign has used the death of Christopher Reeve to highlight its differences with President Bush over embryonic stem-cell research, but the actor himself expressed doubt over the ability of the cells to treat chronic injuries such as the paralysis he suffered from a horse-riding accident nearly a decade ago.

Reeve, a leading advocate for finding a cure for spinal cord injuries, died Sunday night, shortly after Kerry mentioned his name in Friday night’s debate to argue for federal funding of the controversial research, which opponents, such as President Bush, argue destroys human life.

In an interview earlier this year, however, Readers’ Digest asked Reeve, “What’s your position on embryonic stem-cell research?”

“I advocate it because I think scientists should be free to pursue every possible avenue,” Reeve said. “It appears though, at the moment, that embryonic stem cells are effective in treating acute injuries and are not able to do much about chronic injuries.”

Nevertheless, vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards made a startling campaign promise Monday during a speech at a high school in Newton, Iowa.

“We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other debilitating diseases,” Edwards said, referring to federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. ” … When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

But as a citizen questioner, Elizabeth Long, pointed out in Friday’s town-hall style debate, it’s the adult stem cells, requiring no destruction of human life, that actually have yielded remarkable results and show the most promise.

Long asked Kerry: “Thousands of people have already been cured or treated by the use of adult stem cells or umbilical-cord stem cells. However, no one has been cured by using embryonic stem cells. Wouldn’t it be wise to use stem cells obtained without the destruction of an embryo?”

In his response, Kerry said scientists have told him “we have the option” of curing Parkinson’s, diabetes and spinal-cord injuries using embryonic stem cells.

But Princeton University Professor Robert P. George insists no scientists – not even those most aggresively in favor of the research that destroys embryos – have ever told Kerry any such thing.

“What Kerry has done here is told the big lie about embryonic stem cells,” George said in a column for National Review Online.

The claim is “outrageous,” he said.

“No one knows when – or even whether or not – human embryonic stem cells will be therapeutically useful in treating any major disease or injury.”

George said there are profound and perhaps insurmountable problems with the therapeutic use of the cells.

He emphasizes, despite what the Kerry campaign has said, there is no federal ban on embryonic stem-cell research. Yet the studies that have been funded with state and private money have not even yielded clinical trials.

At the same time, stem cells from adults or umbilical cords have yielded remarkable results.

“For months now, the Kerry campaign and its surrogates, such as Ron Reagan Jr., have cruelly led suffering people to believe that cures for their diseases are just around the corner,” George said. “All we have to do is replace Bush with Kerry, open the federal funding spigot, and presto! The blind see and the lame walk!”

The Kerry campaign’s “hyping of embryo-destructive research for political gain is the cruelest and most shameful episode in the story of the 2004 election,” George said.

In the Reader’s Digest interview, Reeve was asked, “How have political decisions slowed stem cell research?”

“The religious right has had quite an influence on the debate,” he said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. When we’re setting public policy, no one segment of society deserves the only seat at the table. That’s the way it’s set in the Constitution. So debate all we want, hear from everybody. And then allow our representatives to weigh the factors and make laws that are going to be ethically sound, moral, responsible, but not the result of undue pressure from any particular entity.”

Later in the interview, Reeve was asked about going nearly 50 years in his life “without religion” then recently joining the Unitarian Church, a movement that shuns orthodox Christian doctrine.

“It gives me a moral compass,” he said. “I often refer to Abe Lincoln, who said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion.”

“I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us,” Reeve continued. “It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do. The Unitarian believes that God is good, and believes that God believes that man is good. Inherently. The Unitarian God is not a God of vengeance. And that is something I can appreciate.”