More MS news articles for September 2000

Celebrity spotlight on stem-cell research

Fox, Tyler Moore ask for funds as critics cite moral objections

Megan K. Doyle - Cox News Service

WASHINGTON _ Actors Michael J. Fox and Mary Tyler Moore urged a Senate panel Thursday to support federal spending for stem cell research.

"The consistent and inescapable conclusion is that this research offers the potential to eliminate diseases," said Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and left his starring role in the television series "Spin City" this year to establish a foundation for Parkinson's research.

Stem cell research involves the use of embryonic stem cells, which are derived from human embryos and can develop into most of the body's specialized tissues, including muscle cells, nerve cells, liver cells and blood cells.

The cells' ability to divide for indefinite periods of time make them ideal for research and possible treatments of spinal cord injuries and diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Current law prohibits federal money from being used for research that would destroy human embryos, but does not directly refer to stem cell research. A bill proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for labor, health and human services and education, would allow federal money to be used for stem cell research.

Opponents of stem cell research warned that the legislation could result in human embryos being created and sold specifically for such research.

"All of this cheapens human life and our respect for it," said Russell Saltzman, a Lutheran pastor from Kansas City, Mo.

Ron Heagy, a quadriplegic victim of a surfing accident and founder of the Life is an Attitude Foundation, also testified against the use of stem cells from human embryos on moral and ethical grounds.

Fox, Moore and other supporters of the research cited guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health on Aug. 23 as an acceptable method of ethically regulating stem cell research.

"While I do understand that some people have heartfelt concerns about this research, ... stem cell research should be pursued vigorously and is appropriate for federal funding," said Moore, who suffers from diabetes and is international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

Actress Gina Gershon, who appeared in the movie "The Insider," testified on behalf of her friend, Jennifer Estess, who suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"ALS breaks down the body ... until a person can no longer breathe," said Gershon. "Stem cell research could reverse that process. To not find out seems like an agonizingly cruel decision."

Experts in cell biology, cancer research and gene therapy also testified, stating that embryos would not be created for stem cell research, in accordance with the National Institutes of Health guidelines.

"Cells used for research must be derived solely from embryos generated for fertility treatments and in excess of clinical need. Such embryos would otherwise be discarded," said Dr. Richard O. Hynes, president of the American Society for Cell Biology.

"I see in these cells a chance for a medical miracle," said Fox. "The government has done its work. Now we ask you to release our tax dollars so the scientists can do their work."