Paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve has become one of the most outspoken supporters of stem cell research. This latest medical frontier is very controversial, but also very promising. Reeve spoke with CBS News about his hopes for the future . . . not just for himself . . . but also for people suffering from a wide variety of diseases.
"I really feel for people who have no hope," says Reeve. "For somebody with ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis--Lou Gehrig's disease], that's a death sentence . . . I care most about them and I also care about everybody who's got diabetes and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. All those diseases will go the way of polio if this research is allowed to go forward . . . You're talking about 100 million Americans--100 million that could be helped by this research."
You know what opponents say: It is immoral because you are using cells from viable human embryos
"When we've gone to conservatives who are against it, to people who are very hard core against abortion," says Reeve, "we've said, 'Look, here is a fertilized embryo, unwanted, and that mother . . . has no use for it whatsoever. It will not be implanted in the womb. That is different than one that has been fertilized in the womb and become a human being." He adds, "You can be pro-ife and pro-stem cell."
What's your message to President Bush?
"The message to President Bush is that it's okay to say, 'You know what, on the campaign trail, I said one thing--I said I was against this, but now I've really gotten an education. I've listened to all sides,'" says Reeve, "'and you know what? I've changed my mind.'"
A lot of people are turning around on this issue: A lot of conservatives in Washington are turning as well. Do you think their voices will help sway President Bush?
"It's a tidal wave, actually," says Reeve. "You know, if you took a vote today, 63 senators support it. So actually if he were to say, 'No, I'm against it,' there is the momentum and power in Congress to overcome that."
Do you just keep your sights set on the day when you might step out of that chair because of stem cell research?
"I take it on a day-to-day basis. I'm working out as hard as when I tried out for Superman and I went from a 185-pound weakling to 220 pounds of presentable muscle mass," says Reeve. "What stem cells would do for me is: First, I'd be able to breathe on my own. Then I would get the use of my arms. After that comes bladder, bowels, and sexual function, and after that comes the ability to use the legs."
"Once the signal is freed to go down the spinal cord, you only need 10% of the nerves that are there. Ten percent would be enough to put me on my feet," says Reeve.
Reeve says he is optimistic that he will walk again in about 2 or 3 years.
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