John Kerry, the US Democratic presidential candidate, has teamed up with Michael J Fox, the actor, to criticise President Bush's policy on embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. The policy, which has been in place since 9 August 2001, restricts federally-funded researchers to working on ES cell lines already created by that date. Many scientists and others say that there are too few of these ES cell lines actually available, and those that are available are not of the same quality or usefulness as lines created since the policy was introduced. Stem cells grown before that date were grown using mouse 'feeder cells' and so could not ever be safely transplanted into humans. Only since the restrictions were put in place have scientists learned how to grow ES cells without using mouse cells.
Last week, as part of his presidential campaign, Kerry released a television advertisement criticising the ES cell research restrictions. In the advert he states 'It's time to lift the political barriers blocking the stem cell research that could treat or cure diseases like Parkinson's'. He adds 'I believe that science can bring hope to our families'. A spokesman from the Bush campaign reacted to the advert, saying that Kerry is trying to 'mislead the American people by implying a ban that doesn't exist'. In a campaign speech in New Hampshire, Kerry promised to spend $100 million annually on stem cell research, saying that Bush had 'tied the hands of our scientists', and 'made the wrong choice to sacrifice science for extreme right-wing ideology'.
As well as campaigning with Kerry last week, Michael J Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, has also filmed a television advert. In it, he praises Kerry's stance on stem cell research. In the commercial, which will be shown in 'battleground' states in the run-up to the 2 November election, he says 'John Kerry strongly supports stem cell research. George Bush is putting limits on it'. He continues 'Stem cell research can help millions of Americans whose lives have been touched by devastating illnesses. George Bush says we can wait. I say lives are at stake and it's time for leadership. That's why I support John Kerry for president'.
Meanwhile, first lady Laura Bush has again been defending her husband's policy on ES cell research. At a campaign event in Milwaukee last week, she criticised the Democrats for 'overstating its immediate promise' and said that the policy allows 'researchers to explore the potential of stem cells while respecting the ethical and moral implications associated with this research'. At another event in Reno, she stated that ES cell research is not a 'cure-all' and that it was 'irresponsible' to suggest otherwise. And, at the weekend, Michael Reagan, a talk show and radio presenter and son of former president Ronald Reagan, challenged Kerry to appear on one of his programmes for a head-to-head debate on ES cell research. Nancy Reagan has campaigned strongly for further ES cell research, particularly after Ronald Reagan died from Alzheimer's disease earlier this year. But Michael Reagan says that Kerry's statements are 'misleading and needlessly politicising this important issue'.