Christopher Reeve, the actor most famous for playing Superman, has died at the age of 52. Reeve was paralysed from the neck down after a horse riding accident in 1995. He recently developed a pressure sore, a common side-effect for people confined to wheelchairs, and the sore became seriously infected. Reeve had been treated in Northern Westchester Hospital but after going home he fell into a coma, before going into cardiac arrest.
Since his accident, Christopher Reeve has been a campaigner for medical research into spinal cord injuries, and set up his own Paralysis Foundation. One of the areas he campaigned in was that of embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research, believing that one day it would be possible to use stem cell technology to grow nerve cells, which could help people like himself walk again. He was also a supporter of 'therapeutic cloning', the proposed use of stem cells derived from an embryo cloned from a patient's own cell, to avoid rejection by the patient's immune system. ES cell research is limited in the US, while therapeutic cloning is not permitted, and President Bush is pushing for an international ban on this technology.
Christopher Reeve used his famous face to raise the profile of the issue of ES cell research in America and world-wide. He is one of a number of famous names who have given their support to such medical research. His support of the research has helped it emerge as a major issue in the presidential election campaign between George Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry. Only two days before his death, Kerry spoke about him in the second presidential debate. Kerry said he favours further ES cell research, adding that he was a friend of Reeve who may 'one day walk again thanks to such science'.
Newspapers and websites report that tributes have 'poured in' since Reeve's death. Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the UK's Medical Research Council, said that he was known for his 'campaigning and his courage', adding 'it is absolutely wrong to raise false expectations about the speed with which medical research progresses, but it takes people like Reeve, with their commitment and their certainty that they will be cured, to carry it forward'. His family has requested that those people who wish to send gifts should make a donation in his honour to the Foundation, in order to continue the campaign for medical research.