Mary Tyler Moore’s Autograph & What I Did with It by Russell E. Saltzman

Mary Tyler Moore’s Autograph & What I Did with It

Russell E. Saltzman on Stem Cell Research

I got on the elevator in the Hart Senate Office Building heading for the second-floor hearing room, where I was to testify on embryonic stem cell research before a Senate subcommittee. I was there at the request of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. The door was closing but, at the last moment, in rushed Mary Tyler Moore, her husband, her publicist and a couple of other people with her. She was there to testify on the same topic as I, along with Michael J. Fox and several others.

One doesn’t expect to see a Hollywood celebrity in an ordinary elevator. It was a second or two before full recognition kicked in, and then, pow! I knew this woman. Gee whiz, I had had a crush on her twice, once when she was Laura Petrie and again when she was Mary Richards.

She’s never been more than thirteen years older than me, a fact I scoped out when I was sixteen. I can dismiss a sixteen-year-old’s crush, but when she was at WJM I was older and the crush was, well, more sophisticated. Now she’s standing this close to me. I tried to smile at her, but I think my mouth hanging open got in the way.

Following them out of the elevator I put myself right behind Moore, feeling like a stalker. My college daughter wanted Moore’s autograph, and I was going to get it. If I was going to speak to her, it had to be now. I called her name; she stopped. I introduced myself, told her I was testifying also, but in opposition, and would she please give me her autograph for my daughter Elizabeth.

“Only,” she joked, “if you promise to change your testimony.” But she gladly took the paper in my hand, cheerfully signed it “To Elizabeth with best wishes.” Above the i in wishes she drew a little heart, just as Mary Richards would have done.

Embryos Going to Waste

The September 14 hearings were before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education—congressional committee titles are topical catch basins—chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania). The ranking minority member is Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The two senators are urging legislation to allow the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use taxpayer funds to acquire and destroy human embryos for the purposes of stem cell research. Present law allows the NIH to make grants for research on embryonic stem cells, but only, in a bookkeeping sleight-of-hand arrangement, if private funds are used to destroy the embryo and extract the cells.

Under the Specter/Harkin bill, the NIH could spend federal money to secure (no one is saying “purchase”) a steady supply of human embryos that could be destroyed (no one is saying “killed”) under direct NIH auspices. The embryos in question—estimates suggest there are from 100,000 to 150,000—are “leftovers” from fertility clinics, by-products of in-vitro fertilization (INF) attempts.

INF therapy may be a boon to childless couples who can afford the procedure, which often requires multiple attempts, but it has left us with awful questions of what to do with all the extra embryos. For Harkin and Specter and the NIH, these embryos are just going to waste. If they can save some lives, so it is argued, it’s better to use ’em than lose ’em.

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