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Neurologist Says Rush Limbaugh Criticism of Fox Technically Inaccurate But Likely Close to Mark

Fox admitted stopping meds to appear more disabled for 1999 Senate appearance

By Paul Ranalli, MD FRCPC Neurologist Toronto

TORONTO, October 31, 2006 ( - There is no doubt that U.S. radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's direct style and his own past medication issues make him an inviting target. And although he was, in all probability, technically inaccurate in accusing actor Michael J. Fox of "acting" in his recent political TV ad supporting a Democratic senatorial candidate, Limbaugh may have been very close to the mark. As a neurologist with a large number of Parkinson's disease patients, my impression of the video is that Fox displayed the poorly-controlled "choreo-athetotic" movements seen when advanced Parkinson's patients take their medication to turn "on" and emerge from their natural state of rigidity and rest tremor. At some point after taking a pill, a patient's voluntary movements are freed up, without much excess involuntary movement. The issue, then, is one of timing.

Fox himself has no doubt utilized this timing to affect a near-"normal" appearance on various TV late night talk show appearances over the past few years. Limbaugh twigged to the obvious observation that he appeared much worse in the Missouri Democratic Party ad than he has ever allowed himself to be seen in public before. Indeed, a few days after his political ad came out, Fox appeared at a Democratic event in Chicago with his movements under good control, a situation he called "ironic".

Parkinson’s patients become quite adept at predicting the timing and effect of their medications, such as when the golden period of each dose allows them to be freed of their natural rigidity yet not too obviously affected by these involuntary movements. Strangely, however, Fox seemed unable to appear controlled for the pre-taped TV ad, when the appropriate timing should have been easier, especially given the possibility of multiple "takes".

Lest this all sound too cynical, consider that Fox himself admitted in his 2002 autobiography to going off his medication to appear more disabled before a 1999 Senate subcommittee appearance. In his autobiography, "Lucky Man", Fox recalled his 1999 appearance before a Senate subcommittee in this way: "I had made a deliberate choice to appear before the subcommittee without medication . . . the transformation must have been startling." Democratic Party manipulation appears to go much further. In offering Mr. Fox as a spokesman, they have clearly hoped he would cut a sympathetic figure immune from criticism, and the faux outrage at Limbaugh's comments seems to confirm this.

While Fox deserves sympathy for this medical plight, he must assume full responsibility for his words and actions when he chooses to enter the political arena. He is not using his fame and suffering for a generic good like fundraising for Parkinson's research in general; he is, in effect, saying that if you care at all about Parkinson's patients getting better, vote for the Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri. Not coincidently, this is a pivotal state in the upcoming election to control the U.S. Senate.

The implication that only supporters of embryonic stem cell research care about hope for Parkinson's patients is not only unfair, it's deceitful.

There are considerably more promising new Parkinson's treatments closer to human application than stem cells. Everyone, including Republicans, supports the many treatments emerging for Parkinson's patients that promise more immediate application than do stem cells. For that matter, Republicans also support stem cell research when it comes from ethically sound sources such as adult tissues and umbilical cord blood.

Ironically, these forms of stem cells have had greater success to date than the embryonic-source stem cells lionized in the Michael J. Fox TV ad. Embryonic cells have been an utter failure to date, and just last week were revealed to cause uncontrolled brain tumors in a mouse experiment.

See related items:

Michael J. Fox is Right About One Thing: Pro-life Movement Must Oppose IVF

Original Michael Fox video promoting Missouri's Amendment 2 on stem cell research

Michael Fox responds to Limbaugh (video)

Michael J. Fox admits he hasn't read cloning measure

Actor Jim Caviezel Battles Michael J. Fox on Embryonic Stem Cell Video Ads

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