FRONTLINE: My Father, My Brother and Me


Parkinson’s Disease is incurable. But that’s not why it’s important. The fact is, the same could be said of all major brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s and ALS (often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”). What makes Parkinson’s intriguing is that scientists think it could provide a breakthrough to understanding all the others. Researchers sometimes call it a flag bearer, a disease that could be the first to fall and in so doing inch us closer to unlocking the secrets of the brain.

My Father, My Brother and Me is a kind of detective journey that tracks the mystery behind this gateway disease. Parkinson’s is actually more common that any other neurological condition save Alzheimer’s. In fact, more people have Parkinson’s than the combined numbers for Multiple Sclerosis, ALS and Muscular Dystrophy. But despite its prevalence, it doesn’t call much attention to itself. Its distinguishing characteristics are often no more pronounced that a shuffling step or shaking hand. And yet within this mundane progression, this halting story that doesn’t rush to a dramatic close, there lies a tantalizing mystery of real scientific significance.

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But an examination of Parkinson’s is important for another reason. Because embryonic stem cell research may play a key role in how Parkinson’s is treated, the disease inhabits a crossroads where scientific inquiry, religious belief, personal choice and political action all come together. An exploration of Parkinson’s is an exploration into some of the most intriguing societal questions of our time. As America ages, and as scientific advances push new boundaries, Parkinson’s Disease serves as an icon for an increasingly tangled debate.

My Father, My Brother and Me is a story that combines longstanding medical mysteries, remarkable scientific breakthroughs, ethical dilemmas, and political debate. It’s a story that poses important questions, one that can spark a dialogue about issues of growing significance for science and for society.

It’s also a story told in very personal terms. Producer Dave Iverson has a unique perspective on this disease and uses that point of view to provide a personal lens into increasingly important public questions.

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Funding for My Father, My Brother and Me was provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.