Embryonic Stem Cell Debate Refueled by Reeve's Death

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:22pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The death of actor and embryonic stem cell research advocate Christopher Reeve, who passed away Sunday from heart failure, has refueled debate on both sides of the embryonic stem cell issue.

Reeve, who was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995, died at 52 years of age a day after falling into a coma.

The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, an advocate of embryonic stem cell research, used Reeve's death to call for increased funding of stem cell research.

Calling Reeve "a champion for medical research," CAMR President Daniel Perry said Reeve "gave tirelessly of himself to the cause of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning and was an inspiration to every patient everywhere."

"As the nation debates whether we will continue to restrict stem cell researchers, Christopher's death recommits us all to defeating efforts to deny patients hope and limit the arsenal of tools researchers need to defeat disease and disability," Perry said.

In August 2001, President Bush announced federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on 60 existing stem cell lines, prompting supporters of such research to accuse the president of limiting embryonic stem cell research.

"Christopher Reeve could have just been an advocate for spinal cord injury, but instead, he chose to be an advocate for all people who could be helped through stem cell research and therapeutic cloning," Perry added.

"Christopher Reeve was truly a beacon of hope to patients and their families. Patients and scientists alike cheered his efforts to champion stem cell research and became advocates for the research because of him," Perry said, adding that Reeve's influence in Congress was "profound and helped generate much-needed support for stem cell research."

Pro-life groups have spoken out against embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of an embryo.

Right to Life of Michigan, an "outspoken advocate for embryo-destructive stem cell research," praised Reeve for being "one of the best-known advocates for those suffering from spinal-cord injuries,"

However, the group made it clear that it supports only adult stem cell therapy, which it said "provides a true hope that those with spinal-cord injuries will be able to walk again."

"Life-affirming research with adult stem cells and stem cells from umbilical cords has already made a difference in thousands of lives," Right to Life of Michigan said in a statement.

The group pointed to the congressional testimony of Susan Fait and Laura Dominguez who, after being injured in car accidents, are now able to walk without the help of braces.

"Their remarkable recoveries occurred after being treated with stem cells from their own bodies, adult stem cells," National Right to Life of Michigan said. The group said that currently, 56 diseases or injuries have been or are being treated with adult stem cells.

National Right to Life of Michigan said supporters of embryonic stem cell research are giving people "false" hope about the potential healing effects of the research.

"No research using embryonic stem cells is currently being used to heal humans, even though embryonic stem cell research is completely legal in the private sector and is being funded in the United States and other countries," National Right to Life of Michigan added.

"To give a false promise by advocating embryo-destructive research is a disservice to those who need hope the most. The focus must remain on life-affirming stem cell research, not embryo-destructive research. Adult stem cell research poses no moral dilemma and has positive results for those who suffer," the group concluded.

In a statement released Monday, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a personal friend of Reeve, expressed his condolences to Reeve's family, saying he "gave hope to millions of Americans who are counting on the life-saving cures that science and research can provide."

Kerry said Reeve "met every challenge with a courage and character that broke new ground in this struggle."

"As Christopher once said, 'So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.' "Because he had the strength to carry this cause, I know one day that we will realize that inevitable dream," Kerry said.

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