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  • BIOETHICS FORUM ESSAY

‘Americans Like Me’

My husband is from St. Louis, where baseball is the local religion. During the World Series this week, he has been fulfilling the tenets of his faith: meticulously keeping score, muttering about “double-switches” and other National League mysteries, lamenting the sad decline in erudition and manners among baseball fans who did not have the great good fortune to grow up listening to Jack Buck on KMOX. All was well, until the rain delay on Wednesday night, which, while disappointing to my husband, did give us a chance to catch up on bioethics and public affairs, something I thought might not happen until next month. He clued me into the rival stem cell commercials in Missouri. I’d heard about the Michael J. Fox ad that aired during Game 1, but not the Jeff Suppan ad that was scheduled to air during the rained-out game. So I logged onto YouTube and watched both ads. They are not exactly rival ads, though both are aimed at Missouri voters. The ad featuring Cardinals pitcher Suppan and other celebrities urges voters to reject a state ballot initiative that would protect embryonic stem cell research in Missouri. Fox’s ad, which supports Claire McCaskill, the Democratic candidate for US Senate, addresses stem cell research in terms of its potential promise for “Americans like me.” McCaskill’s Republican opponent, Jim Talent, opposes ESC research.

The Fox ad is an extraordinary document, as a portrait of a person with advanced Parkinson’s. I have seen one other public figure who revealed what this disease, and its treatment, looks like, giving onlookers some notion of what it must feel like to inhabit a Parkinsonian body. That person was the late Jack Buck, the voice of the Cardinals. In 200l, my husband and I happened across an interview he was taping at a museum in Chicago – “happened,” in the sense that my husband happened to learn that God was in town for the day. (This two-day trip also involved two Cardinals-Cubs games at Wrigley, one of which was played in dense fog. Such hardships are as nothing to the faithful.) “Jack,” like Fox, was in constant motion during this interview – I remember his arms, in particular, flipping back and forth across his torso. His condition was well-known at home in St. Louis; in addition to his radio and broadcasting work, he appeared on local television regularly. Watching the Fox commercial, St. Louisans would remember that “Americans like me” – Americans with advanced Parkinson’s – also looked like Jack Buck, who died in 2002.

So I was not surprised, when I Googled the names of Jack Buck and Michael J. Fox together, to find that, following Rush Limbaugh’s allegations that Fox had been off his meds, a local radio journalist on KMOX had interviewed Buck’s neurologist, Joel Perlmutter, to discuss Parkinson’s and, in particular, the “writhing” characteristic of patients on L-Dopa. Dr. Perlmutter reminded local listeners that “we’d seen this” in St. Louis, because “that’s just exactly what Jack Buck had.”

– Nancy Berlinger

Published on: October 27, 2006
Published in: Emerging Biotechnology, Media

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