Celebrities square off in stem cell ads
WASHINGTON (BP) – Entertainment and sports celebrities are weighing in on the volatile issue of embryonic stem cell research as Election Day nears in Missouri.
The destructive form of experimentation is not only at the heart of an initiative on the ballot Nov. 7, but it is a major focus of the U.S. senatorial campaign between Republican incumbent Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Amendment 2, titled the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, would amend the state constitution to protect embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and therapeutic cloning, which both require the destruction of embryos. Talent opposes the amendment, while McCaskill favors it.
Actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease and is a leading advocate for ESCR, endorsed McCaskill because of her position on the issue in a television commercial that was shown on Missouri stations Oct. 22 during the telecast of game two of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers.
“In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures,” says Fox, who is visibly affected by his disease during the 30-second ad. “Unfortunately, Sen. Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Sen. Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope. They say that all politics is local, but it’s not always the case. What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans, Americans like me.”
Foes of Amendment 2 are expected to unveil a commercial on Missouri stations Oct. 25 during the fourth game of the World Series. The 60-second ad includes warnings about the initiative from actor Jim Caviezel and actress Patricia Heaton, as well as current or former Missouri sports stars Kurt Warner, Mike Sweeney and Jeff Suppan, who is scheduled to pitch for St. Louis that evening.
Suppan and Heaton take aim at two aspects of the amendment that foes say are misleading: Whether cloning is permitted by the initiative and whether women may be paid for donating their eggs.
“Amendment 2 claims it bans human cloning, but in the 2,000 words you won’t read, it makes cloning a constitutional right,” Suppan says. “Don’t be deceived.”
Heaton, Emmy Award-winning actress on the TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond” and honorary chair of Feminists for Life, says, “Amendment 2 actually makes it a constitutional right for fertility clinics to pay women for eggs. Low-income women will be seduced by big checks, and extracting donor eggs is an extremely complicated, dangerous and painful procedure.”
Though the amendment says it will “ban human cloning or attempted cloning,” Missourians Against Human Cloning said the initiative later says it will permit somatic cell nuclear transfer, the method used to clone Dolly the sheep. The result, amendment foes point out, is the prohibition of cloning to produce a child carried to term but not the reproduction of an embryo to destroy in research.
Missourians Against Human Cloning contends on its website that the initiative says eggs from a woman cannot be purchased or sold, but the amendment later says women can be paid.
The anti-Amendment 2 ad also refers to a recent report on a 2004 California stem cell initiative that approved $3 billion in funding from bonds over 10 years to an institute for ESCR. A report from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in early October said no cure may be developed after 10 years of research that destroys embryos.
The Missouri initiative proposes the “exact, same science,” says Warner, former Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the St. Louis Rams. “Same science … no cures. Beware of loopholes. Missourians will pay. Don’t be tricked.”
Caveziel, who portrayed Jesus in the movie “The Passion of The Christ,” says at the close of the ad: “You know now. Don’t do it. Vote ‘no’ on 2.”
Rock musician Sheryl Crow, a Missouri native and cancer survivor, endorses Amendment 2 in a pro-initiative TV commercial.
Amendment 2’s huge lead in public opinion polls has faded markedly in recent weeks, according to a survey released Oct. 24. Likely voters who are certain to vote for the amendment are at 45 percent, while likely voters who are certain to oppose it are at 36 percent, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted Oct. 21-23. In addition, 18 percent are uncertain how they will vote.
On Oct. 12, Amendment 2 had a 57-27 advantage, meaning the difference has shrunk from 30 points to nine points in less than two weeks.
SurveyUSA also reported Oct. 24 that Talent is leading McCaskill 48 to 45 percent. On Oct. 12, McCaskill led 51-42 percent in the survey.
“[T]he ads exaggerate the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells beyond anything that Michael J. Fox or anyone else has reasonable grounds to believe they can be used to accomplish,” Princeton University professor Robert George told National Review Online. George is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. “No one knows when, if ever, embryonic cells will be used in therapies at all.
“I have great sympathy for Mr. Fox and other victims of Parkinson’s and similarly horrible diseases. I understand how desperately he hopes for a cure for what afflicts him and so many others,” George said. “But the fact that Mr. Fox is a victim is not a license for him to mislead or manipulate the public. The truth – the whole truth – must be told. Those politicians who, for political gain, have run these ads in which the truth is distorted and people are misled deserve the most severe of reprimands. Win or lose, they have brought upon themselves disgrace.”
Fox reportedly also has taped a commercial for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, an ESCR backer.
While Talent opposes ESCR because of its destructive nature, he supports funding non-embryonic research. Fox’s comment that Talent “wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope” may have been a reference to the senator’s past promotion of a ban on human cloning sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan. Talent withdrew his sponsorship of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act in February.