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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Notes on Christopher Reeve

Well...Christopher Reeve has passed on. Death is certainly no respecter of persons. But still we grieve the loss of his life and pray for comfort and provision for his family.

It was slightly jarring to see Reeve's face smiling from the cover of the Reader’s Digest magazine on my neighbor’s coffee table a couple days ago. The caption read, “Chris Reeve - A decade later: hope, determination, and faith.”

It's a sad irony, considering he died during the month this issue was published, and considering that those things apparently meant something different to him than they might mean to others.

The article (an interview) was both tribute and revealing picture of the man. Though Reeve's injury was tragic, his fierceness and tenacity helped him achieve superior rehabilitation.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

RD: Has there been a change in your optimism (as of late, regarding gaining movement or sensation)?
Reeve: ...yes, there’s been a change in my state of mind, because in May of next year it will be ten years [since the accident], and I doubt if by that time there’s going to be a procedure suitable for me...I didn’t think it would take this long. (emphasis added)

RD: What’s been the hardest part?
Reeve: Watching the slow progress of research in this country. I don’t know if it would have made me walk sooner, but I would have had the satisfaction of knowing we’re all on the same page. Groups of people who have differences about all kinds of issues are united to fight against AIDS. Wouldn’t it be great if we were as united about biomedical research for diseases that affect 128 million Americans?

RD: What’s your position on embryonic stem cell research?
Reeve: I advocate it because I think scientists should be free to pursue every possible avenue. It appears, though, at the moment, that embryonic stem cells are effective in treating acute injuries and are not able to do much about chronic injuries.

RD: How have political decisions slowed stem cell research?
Reeve: The religious right has had quite an influence on the debate. I don’t think that’s appropriate. When we’re setting public policy, no one segment of society deserves the only seat at the table. {no one is saying they do, Mr. Reeve} That’s the way it’s set in the Constitution. So debate all we want, hear from everybody. And then allow our representatives to weigh the factors and make laws that are going to be ethically sound, moral, responsible, but not the result of undue pressure from any particular entity. {hasn't the representation actually been biased in the opposite direction? -- my comments added}

RD: You’ve talked people out of suicide who’ve just suffered the kind of injury you had. How do you do it?
Reeve: I tell them about a lot of things that are available, what’s happening with research, particularly for the acute phase of injury, and what opportunities there are for rehabilitation. ..

RD: You went nearly 50 years without religion in your life. What made you recently join the Unitarian Church?
Reeve: It gives me a moral compass. I often refer to Abe Lincoln, who said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion.” I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do. The Unitarian believes that God is good, and believes that God believes that man is good. Inherently. The Unitarian God is not a God of vengeance. And that is something I can appreciate.

RD: What really keeps you going?
Reeve: The love and support of my family, and the fact that I’m needed. I’m working. I focus on the opportunities that come my way rather than on the things that haven’t arrived yet. {I’m not sure this is 100% honest}

RD: What has been the biggest loss as a result of your condition?
Reeve: The loss of freedom as I used to understand it. I still have creative freedom, and I have basic freedom, but not the way it used to be.

The complete article is available here, along with further comment from Reeve that was not included in the printed article. An excerpt:

I look at things in a pretty logical way and try to keep the emotion out of it. And if you ask a very simple, two-part question of some opponents of embryonic stem cell research, it's incredibly hard to get a straight answer. The question is, Where do the embryonic stem cells that scientists want to study come from? Answer, in vitro fertility clinics. There are 400 of those clinics around the country. There are 185,000 Americans walking around today who were born in those clinics.

The second part of that question is, if you're opposed to the harvesting of embryos from leftovers in those clinics that are going to be discarded as medical waste, do you object to in vitro fertility clinics? And they can't answer that.

It's just very interesting that, as far as I'm aware, there's never been legislation, since 1981, to ban fertility clinics in any state. And yet, people have a problem with taking, with informed consent of the donors, the excess embryos that aren't used. And there are 400,000 fertilized embryos sitting in freezers that will be thrown away as medical waste. They keep them for a brief time as there's a possibility of a sibling. And by the way, you don't need to have a perfect embryo to get embryonic stem cells. It doesn't need to be that viable. Because you're talking about the cells when they're only three to five days old. So this is not like a baby that you're killing.

Reeve asks a very good question regarding IVF. It has been quite puzzling to me that the pro-life leaders most outspoken about stem-cell research have been strangely silent on IVF. I wrote a letter to one of these leaders a few years ago; unfortunately I've misplaced the response but remember it being less than satisfactory.

But Reeve’s statement about a 3-5-day-old embryo not being a baby is odd; he doesn’t say that all of them are not viable. At what point does he suppose the viable embryo (or appropriate portion of it) becomes a baby? At what point does he suppose he or his son Will became a baby? Would he have been willing to sacrifice Will when Will was a blastocyst?

I truly feel sorry for Christopher Reeve (or, rather, did, and I am sincere in this). His optimism was based on a stretch -- a hope and a promise that even he admitted was not a given. However much he claimed to be a pragmatist, I still hear beneath those words an idealistic optimism and a refusal to accept the “ugly,” or, rather, a re-defining of what “ugly” is. (Actually, I’ve noticed this to be a characteristic of those who consider themselves “liberal.”)

That said, I’m the first to admit I can’t imagine myself going through what Reeve went through, nor having his courage should the same fate (quadriplegia) befall me. Yet his story stands as a contrast to the testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada, who dealt with her quadriplegia in quite a different way. Her biography, Joni, is powerful and encouraging. I highly recommend it.

edited for clarity 10/19/04


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