Monday, July 21, 2008

Michael J Fox returns to health

It appears that Michael J Fox, the American actor who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at the age of 30 in 1991, will be starring in a four-episode series of the FX comedy-drama "Rescue Me", to be filmed later this year. His Parkinson's appears to be under medical control, which, in a world where sometimes things seem to spiral ever downwards, is a reason to look upstairs and say, "Nice one". I was a psychiatric nurse for many years and saw the effects of Parkinson's all too often.

Parkinson's disease is basically due to a lack of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the basal ganglia of the brain, which control, among other things, initiating and sustaining movement. It is treated by medications which variously are converted into dopamine in the brain, promote its production, or inhibit its reabsorption from the intra-synaptic spaces. Like many medications these drugs work within a calculable time-frame, the optimum period in the case of Parkinson's disease being known as "golden time".

In 2006, Fox appeared in a video in support of Claire McCaskill, who was standing for the Senate for the state of Missouri, and won her place on November 8, 2006, forthe Democratic Party. A key point of contention in this race was Missouri Constitutional Amendment 2 (The Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative), which would allow embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic human cloning - the latter being to find cures for diseases, like Parkinson's, by cloning human cells, most often garnered from unimplanted embryos left over from IVF proceedures. Kant, who pioneered the theory of ends - saying that nobody should unknowingly be involved in a process whose ends they do not understand - would be gobsmacked.

In this video, Fox is subject to many choreo-athetotic movements, God help him, that anti-Parkinsonian medication is formulated to combat in the "golden time".

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. [Rush] 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".

The reference to Rush Limbaugh is to an American conservative commentator with an idiosyncratic style who picked out that, although Fox was suffering from Parkinsonian choreo-athetotic movements, he always managed to keep his eyes on the camera. Limbaugh says what he thinks in a way that can lead to him being lampooned in the take-no-prisoners American media, but look at this news report, and decide if the debunker is any more morally justified than the debunkee.

All in all, I am glad that Michael J Fox's symptoms are being controlled by medical management. Long may they be so. Personally, being manic-depressive and taking meds that can have Parkinsonian side-effects, I am starting to feel those effects, and it's scary. But I have no desire to encourage those who would butcher - I can find no other word - unborn children for relief of what is nothing other than the side-effects of life. What do they think they're offering me, eternal life? I have a friend who is an atheist and isn't taken in by that sort of disingenuous snake-oil salesmanship.

Although my friend disagrees with me, I believe I know a better way to eternal life, which doesn't involve any film star supporting a measure they haven't read, or any human beings being conceived primarily for purposes other than being born. With this way, even though it might not always seem like it, every second is golden time.

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