NEW YORK – Even before his sudden death, actor Christopher Reeve (search) had become a topic of discussion in the presidential race as Sen. John Kerry and President Bush argued over the benefits of stem cell research.
Kerry mentioned the "Superman" film star by name during the second presidential debate Oct. 8 while criticizing Bush’s stem-cell policy. Reeve, who died over the weekend and had been a quadriplegic since a 1995 horse-riding accident, was an advocate for more funding for stem cell research.
Bush’s policy, enacted in 2001, prohibits federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells (search) — other than the 60 lines already in existence. It doesn’t affect private or state-funded embryonic stem cell research, however.
Kerry, on the other hand, supports federally funding more than only the existing 60 stem cell lines and expanding the government-led research.
Since Reeve’s sudden death of a heart attack on Sunday, Kerry’s running mate Sen. John Edwards (search) has suggested that if Kerry is elected, people like Reeve may one day be able to walk again.
"We lost a great American, Christopher Reeve, in the last couple of days, and it just reminds me of how important it is to have a president like John Kerry who believes in science, who will make sure we fund the stem cell research that will allow us to find a cure for Parkinson’s, for spinal cord injury," Edwards said in Colorado on Tuesday.
A day earlier, in Newton, Iowa, the vice presidential hopeful said: “If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”
In a press conference call orchestrated by Bush’s re-election campaign, Senate Majority Leader and heart surgeon Bill Frist (search) blasted Edwards’ remarks as “opportunistic" and said they give false hope that new treatments are imminent.
“I find it opportunistic to use the death of someone like Christopher Reeve — I think it is shameful — in order to mislead the American people,” said Frist, R-Tenn.
Edwards' wife Elizabeth Edwards (search) backed up her husband in an interview with FOX on Wednesday.
“My husband was trying to put a personal face on policy,” Mrs. Edwards said, adding that he was talking about Reeve “and the hope that he had … that stem-cell [research] would provide answers.”
First lady Laura Bush (search) defended her husband’s position on the issue, also in an interview with FOX News.
"The fact is, the president is the only president who’s authorized federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and other stem cell research,” Mrs. Bush said. “So stem cell research is going on — it’s just very, very preliminary. So far, it looks like the best results have been with adult stem cell research, but that doesn't mean we won't have, I hope, a myriad of cures."
Other than Reeve, actor Michael J. Fox — who suffers from Parkinson's disease — and the late President Reagan's son, Ron Reagan, have also been strong supporters of expanding the federal stem cell research program.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and Catherine Donaldson-Evans contributed to this report.