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Fox's stem-cell push faces celeb backlash

Canadian-born actor Michael J. Fox is batting against Jesus in an escalating political debate on embryonic stem-cell research that has recruited celebrity pitchmen for both sides.

During last night's World Series baseball game, opponents of stem-cell research unveiled an alarming new television commercial that warns against a controversial ballot measure that is now heating up the Missouri state election and has been publicly supported by Fox.

The minute-long ad features Jim Caviezel, the film actor who portrayed Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, television actress Patricia Heaton, Kansas City Royals first baseman Mark Sweeney and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan. It appeared four days after Fox began appearing in his own series of television ads urging Missouri voters to support candidates who back the bill.

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"Amendment 2 claims it bans human cloning, but in the 2,000 words you don't read, it makes cloning a constitutional right. Don't be deceived," Suppan says in the counter commercial, which also warns that the bill will make it a constitutional right for women to sell their reproductive eggs for money.

Heaton, star of the television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and honorary chair of the anti-abortion lobby group Feminists for Life, says low-income women will be "seduced" into undergoing this "painful" procedure if the ballot measure is passed.

Amendment 2, officially known as the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, would amend the state constitution to protect all federally allowed forms of research, including embryonic stem-cell research. Supporters of the study say it holds promise in the search to cure diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. They also assert that the language of the proposed constitutional amendment explicitly bans human cloning.

Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's, waded into the debate this week with a series of 30-second campaign spots on behalf of five Democrats who support stem-cell research, including Claire McCaskill, who is trying to unseat Missouri Republican Senator Jim Talent.

"They say all politics is local, but it's not always the case," Fox says in the ad, while shaking, trembling and clearly suffering from the increasingly debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's that all but ended his career six years ago.

"What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans -- Americans like me," he continues in the McCaskill ad, which began airing last Saturday during Game 1 of the World Series.

Fox's campaign appeal has triggered a loud backlash, with some criticizing it as exploitive. On Tuesday, conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said Fox was "either off his medication or acting." Limbaugh, who has since apologized, also noted that Fox admitted in his 2002 biography, Lucky Man, to not taking his medication when he appeared before Congress in 1999.

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"He did not take his medication for the purposes of having the ravages and the horrors of Parkinson's disease illustrated, which is what he has done in [these]commercials," Limbaugh charged.

"I'm kind of lucky right now," Fox responded the same day. "It's ironic, given some of the things that have been said in the last couple of days, that my pills are working really well right now."

Fox could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Best known for his work on the television shows Family Ties and Spin City, Fox has also lent his celebrity support to Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, who is running for the Senate in Maryland, and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, who is seeking re-election. Fox also campaigned for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election The actor was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 and revealed his condition seven years later. In 2000, he quit acting full-time and founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which has become the single largest financial contributor to Parkinson's disease research outside the U.S. government.

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Vancouver restaurant critic

Alexandra Gill has been The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver restaurant critic since 2005. She joined the paper as a summer intern in 1997 and was hired full-time as an entertainment columnist the following year. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver as the Western Arts Correspondent, a position she held until 2007. More


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