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Death of Reeve a wake-up call to opponents of stem cell research

Actor Christopher Reeve died Sunday at the age of 52. Since May 1995, Reeve had spent his days in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down. This did not stop him from touring the country as a strong supporter of stem cell research. His passing is a staunch reminder that people are actually suffering — or dying, in Reeve’s case — while scientific research could help them.

Reeve, who reached fame portraying Superman in a series of movies, suffered a spinal column injury after a fall from a horse during a riding competition. His case was a prime example of a situation in which stem cells, through their ability to repair or even replace injured neurons such as those in the spinal column, could have vastly increased an individual’s quality of life.

Sen. John Kerry mentioned Reeve answering a question about stem cell research in last Friday’s presidential debate.

“Chris Reeve is a friend of mine,” Kerry said. “Chris Reeve exercises every single day to keep those muscles alive for the day when he believes he can walk again, and I want him to walk again. I think we can save lives.”

It is usually in bad taste to politicize the passing of any individual, but Reeve had been pursuing the case since his accident. His life is an example of an instance where stem cell research could have helped. His legacy is honored, not exploited.

Last Friday, Faye Armitage, mother of Jason Armitage, who suffered an injury similar to Reeve’s during a soccer match, spoke during a campus event. She said politicians are exploiting the topic for their own gains, the “political reasons” being the attempt “to link stem cell research to abortion,” a link that does not exist, as stem cells used in research do not come from aborted fetuses. Politicians, she argued, exploit “the ignorance of the public” to “instill fear” and advance their own causes.

Now is as good a time as any to clear up the misconceptions surrounding the issue in order to help people such as Jason Armitage or Reeve.