March 2, 2024

A dramatic shift of direction for a stem cell advocate

Michael J. Fox has changed his mind on human embryonic stem cell research

Five or six years ago the ethical dilemmas in human embryonic stem cell research were the hottest story in bioethics. One of the many celebrities promoting funding for it was Michael J. Fox, an actor whose career has been severely curtailed by Parkinson’s disease. As an extremely effective patient advocate, he claimed that opponents were enemies of hope.

Now, without any fanfare, he has changed his mind. In an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC News, Fox announced that other avenues of research are more promising:

“I’m glad that I put the effort into promoting it. My quest in that regard was really about research freedom and not shutting down avenues of research because of ideological reasons that were countered by the majority opinion of whether it was worthwhile doing. Hopefully stem cell research will result in something. I’m glad we found for it and the right to do it  but there’s other areas that we are pursuing…

“Stem cells are an avenue of research that we’ve pursued and continue to pursue but it’s part of a broad portfolio of things that we look at. There have been some issues with stem cells, some problems along the way…

“It’s not so much that [stem cell research has] diminished in its prospects for breakthroughs as much as it’s the other avenues of research have grown and multiplied and become as much or more promising. So, an answer may come from stem cell research but it’s more than likely to come from another area.” 

Fox’s foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, is the largest private funder of Parkinson’s disease research in the world. It recently launched an on-line initiative to encourage participation in clinical trials of drugs, not stem cells.  

Here is an advertisement he made in support of Missouri US Senate candidate Clare McCaskill in 2006. Nowadays the hope lies with other therapies. 

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Michael J. Fox
stem cells