Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Let's Talk Exploitation

Parkinson's is a serious disease. There is real hope that people with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and other terrifying conditions might be effectively treated (dare we even hope, possibly cured!) if stem-cell research were allowed to move forward unhindered.

So, it is no surprise that actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, agreed to lend his celebrity status and health condition to help support a Midwestern Senatorial candidate who is in favor of stem cell research.

So far, it all seems fair enough. We all value life. Some people call themselves pro-life because they oppose the medical procedure that aborts unwanted pregnancies. But there is also a responsibility to help people who are currently alive live with dignity, hope, comfort, and care. That's why those of us who want universal health care coverage, who favor diplomacy over war, and who would like to see stem cell research go forward to cure the chronically ill are also pro-life. Some of us are pro-life in utero, others of us are pro-life (and pro-quality of life) for those who have been born. Just because one does not consider abortion to be unquestionably reprehensible does not keep one from being "pro-life."

Fox apparently made a television ad for the political candidate and the TV ad showed Fox compromised by his disease. In response, Rush Limbaugh reportedly accused Fox of dramatizing his condition, appearing sicker than he really is to exploit his condition.

Now, without getting into the many reasons why Limbaugh doesn't have the moral authority to point his finger at Fox (or anyone else really), let's just imagine this for a moment...What if Michael J. Fox did choose to skip his meds for a day or two so that we could see the effects of Parkinson's? What if he being intimately aquainted with the problems of Parkinson's dramatized the effects that are normally under control with medication? In either case, he would not be pulling the wool over our eyes. Parkinson's is a major disease and he really does have it. I think it took courage for him to show the public what it is like to be weakened by the disease that effects him personally. And to do so for a cause he obviously believes in is all the more acceptable if not noble. And, just possibly, Fox is a highly principled person who did nothing other than show his reality as it is today - no acting, no gimmicks, no tricks.

For a victim of Parkinson's to share his reality with the public in order to put a human face on a difficult condition is not exploitive. It is human and brave and compassionate. For someone to try to discredit him for political purposes is another matter. Though, this would not be the first time Mr. Limbaugh avoided the high road.

For Michael J. Fox to share his story as a means of educating people is a personal choice. It may or may not persuade voters to support his preferred candidate. But it should give viewers cause to think more deeply about the issue. For Rush Limbaugh to accuse a sick man of faking the severity of his illness in hopes that viewers will not consider both sides of the issue - that is exploitive, unethical, and unworthy of any public figure in a civil society.

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