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Controversy Over Way to Debate Controversy


Controversy over specific political issues can spawn yet more controversy involving the way those issues are debated. As VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, a statement by a well-known American radio commentator about a political ad in favor of stem cell research has overshadowed the issue itself.

Hollywood actor Michael J. Fox is campaigning on behalf of politicians who favor stem cell research, which may someday result in a treatment for his advanced case of Parkinson's Disease.

"As you might know, I care deeply about stem cell research,” says Fox in an advertisement. “In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill who shares my hope for cures. Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us the chance for hope."

Senator Talent, a Republican, is campaigning in Missouri for reelection to the U.S. Senate. He opposes federal embryonic stem cell research, saying it involves killing a human embryo, which violates the sanctity of life. Research advocates argue that it has the potential of saving the lives of people inflicted with debilitating diseases or injuries.

Conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh entered the fray by attacking Michael J. Fox personally. "In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it's purely an act," he said during one of his recent programs.

Except that Fox's movements are not an act, but rather the symptoms of Parkinson's. Limbaugh apologized after members of his audience called to complain. But another conservative commentator, Sean Hannity, says Michael J. Fox's ad is deceiving.

"This is about the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research,” said Hannity. “Stem cell research is legal in Missouri, it's being funded and it's going on in state universities, and that's not put in the ad."

The Republican Congress in July fell a few votes shy of overriding President Bush's one and only veto: a measure to expand public funding of embryonic stem cell research. Private funding is legal. Those who favor such research, such as Michael J. Fox, are campaigning for candidates who would help create the two-thirds congressional majority necessary to pass veto-proof legislation.