October 14, 2004

It didn't take long for Democrats to make the death of "Superman" a campaign issue to be used against President Bush -- and pro-life conservatives are jumping all over Senator John Edwards for exploiting the recent passing of actor Christopher Reeve for political purposes.

Speaking at a rally in Iowa on Monday -- the day after Reeve's death -- Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards noted the performer's advocacy for stem-cell research for finding a cure for spinal injuries. The actor, who died of heart failure on Sunday evening, had championed the cause ever since a 1995 horse-riding accident left him paralyzed.

Edwards was discussing stem-cell research with the Iowa audience when he said: "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk again. Get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

Several conservative leaders are accusing the first-term senator of exploiting the actor's death for political gain and to misrepresent President Bush's policy on stem-cell research. Edwards' Senate colleague, Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee -- who in addition to being the Senate majority leader, is a physician -- says he finds it "opportunistic" to use the death of a prominent person to mislead Americans, particularly at election time.

"I think it is shameful," Frist tells the Boston Globe. "We should be offering people hope, just like physicians do; but neither physicians, scientists, public servants, [nor] trial lawyers like John Edwards should be offering hype...it's giving false hope to people."

Contrary to statements made by the Kerry-Edwards campaign, the Bush administration has not banned stem-cell research. In fact, the president has authorized $25 million this year for stem-cell research and allowed federal financing on research using existing embryonic stem cells. Kerry, however, has stated he would lift such limits if he is elected.

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family notes the successes of adult stem-cell therapies compared to those using embryonic stem cells. "Adult stem cells have shown to have promise for more than 70 diseases and maladies and injuries of various sorts," Dobson said during his radio broadcast on Wednesday. "By contrast, embryonic stem cells are not promising for the treatment of disease. There is not one clinical trial going on anywhere in the world with embryonic stem cells because they don't work."

Perhaps that explains Dobson's strong reaction to John Edwards' comments on Monday that suggest things would be different under a Kerry administration.

"That is propaganda equivalent to a snake-oil salesman selling magical potion," he stated in reference to Edwards' remarks. "Embryonic stem cells are not going to cure these kinds of diseases and injuries in our lifetime -- that's what the researchers are saying. But they don't say it very loudly because they want the money...to fund other research. So they're allowing this distortion to go on."

Instead, Dobson said, there is a better chance that patients like Christopher Reeve will walk again due to adult stem-cell therapies than those using embryonic stem cells.

Also reacting to Edwards' remarks was Tony Perkins of the Family Research Center. He says when he heard the VP candidate, he thought for a moment that the two members of the Democratic ticket had "gained some insight through their series of church visits." The problem is, Perkins adds, that both Edwards and Kerry "attribute such healing power to destructive embryonic stem cell research."