More MS news articles for Dec 2001

'West Wing' aids MS awareness

Monday, 12/24/01
Gail Kerr

There are a number of famous people who have multiple sclerosis: singers Donna Fargo and Alan Osmond, former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, comedian Richard Pryor and talk-show host Montel Williams.

But no one has had as much impact on the world of MS as the fictional character President Josiah ''Jed'' Bartlet, on the hit television show The West Wing.

The character Bartlet, played by actor Martin Sheen, has relapsing-remitting MS. But he didn't tell voters, or his staff, that fact when he ran and won the presidency. The character finally goes public when he decides to run for re-election.

This major story line has included accurate information about MS: You learn that Bartlet is given shots of Betaseron by his wife and that he can function just fine in the Oval Office, and you learn the consequences some people pay for disclosing or hiding their MS. On the show, the U.S. House of Representatives is investigating whether he lied to the public.

''He is heightening the awareness of the underlying issue, the fact that he was afraid to state that he had it when he was running,'' said Kevin Poff, chairman of the board of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the MS Society. ''A lot of people are in that same situation, they are afraid of losing their job, or afraid that they will be stigmatized. The society has been very pleased with the way the show has portrayed it.''

The West Wing is giving MS unprecedented attention and is giving accurate information, according to, the national society's Web site.

''For the first time on national television or even in film, the public encountered a lead character with both an MS diagnosis and the hope for a continued productive life,'' the Web site says. ''Because West Wing is a fictional drama and not a medical documentary, writers could have greatly distorted MS facts to further their story line.''

© Copyright 2001 The Tennessean