Mammograms, Breast Cancer and the Politics of Medical Practice

December 2, 2009 09:00 AM

As I listened to Senator Harry Reid discussing health care reform over Thanksgiving weekend, it occurred to me that something is amiss. There is a fundamental problem underlying the fact that we are even having the health care debate now occurring in the halls of Congress, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ headquarters and the White House. Simply put, I have never met anyone who has elected a physician, and entrusted him or her with his health and well-being.

Americans don’t vote for their doctor; they identify a good doctor as someone who can help them when they are ill and keep them healthy when they are not ill. On the other hand, I have never met a politician who reminded me of a kindly family doctor. While I am aware that there are a few physicians who have become elected officials, they are a rarity, not the run-of-the-mill elected official. And, I might add, they don’t see patients during their tenure in office. The two professions are absolutely dissimilar … or at least they used to be. But things are changing these days and, I daresay, not for the better.

Many members of America’s political class are now, quite literally, injecting themselves into the life-and-death situations confronted by families. Such politicians are acting as if they know what is best for us all and assuring us that even if they bankrupt the country, they are only doing what is best for everyone. Sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? Well, it would make a great comedy if it weren’t so deadly serious right now.

Clearly, there is a whole lot more to this than merely my humble opinion. For example, look at the controversy over mammograms and breast cancer prevention.

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post opined regarding the new recommendations issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The task force claims that women in their 40s really would be better off not having an annual mammogram because “the impact of false-positive readings, such as anxiety and the pain associated with biopsies and multiple reexaminations” has been harmful to many women. On the other hand, the task force did recommend that women between the ages of 50 and 74 get a mammogram every couple of years and encouraged physicians to promote such screening.

Right away, some denounced the task force’s report as a perfect example of how the government is preparing the public for rationed health care, while others disagreed. One commentator, Tracie Walker, explained it this way:  “Some see these new mammogram recommendations as a real problem, but others think this is a tempest in a teapot, heightened by the current tense political climate, and not a real threat to women after all.”

Well, maybe. But another Washington Post editorialist provided insights that raise the bar a bit. Steven Pearlstein, an Obamacare supporter, alleges that Sebelius ran for political cover, “undermining the move toward evidence-based medicine [Obamacare] with her hasty and cowardly disavowal of a recommendation from her department’s own task force that women under 50 are probably better off not getting routine annual mammograms.”

At least Pearlstein was honest enough to admit, “I have no idea of who should and should not get routine mammograms.”  He then asserted, “I know enough about statistics to say that the issue is not settled just because you know of someone in her 40s whose breast cancer was detected by a mammogram and cured.”  However, most of us understand that mammograms have saved lives and, for many women, are a necessity. We know that when breast cancer runs in a family, a mammogram becomes preventive medicine, don’t we?

Conservative commentator Ken Blackwell’s assessment of Pearlstein’s comments and the Obama-Pelosi-Reid health care prescription should help us think this entire matter through with clarity and honesty:

President Obama’s chief adviser on health care is Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Dr. Emmanuel thinks the problem with burgeoning health care costs is that pesky Hippocratic Oath. Too many doctors are too concerned about their own patients; they’re not looking at the bigger picture. In a world of scarce resources, wouldn’t it be better to take our chances that some women 41-50 will get breast cancer than to devote a disproportionate share of society’s total resources to MRI’s for them. We could treat a lot of diabetics for what it costs to save a few women from breast cancer. Do the math. That’s the Zeke approach.

It’s probably really convenient that Zeke and Rahm are brothers. That way we can apply Chicago-style politics to your health care needs. You won’t have many choices under ObamaCare. But you don’t have many choices for Mayor in Chicago, either. And they like it that way.

If you ascribe to current inside-the-Beltway political correctness, you might think Blackwell is being too sarcastic and critical of the Obama administration, but I would disagree.

Blackwell exposes scientific evidence that, as one might expect, is being ignored by the brothers Emmanuel and a whole lot of others. In fact, what really caught my eye were not Blackwell’s barbs but his focus on abortion and its connection to breast cancer. He reports,

One thing not being mentioned in this week’s battle over early detection for breast cancer is the abortion-breast cancer connection. Abortion can increase the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer. So can use of the contraceptive pill.

These are not things you are likely to hear in this debate. Why? Because the fight to defend human life has already politicized medical care in this country.

In this commentary, Blackwell doesn’t address the underlying reason for the politicization of “medical care” (i.e., the deadly aspects of so-called reproductive health). Abortion is not a lifesaving surgery; it is an act of killing.  A pregnant woman is one of two patients for whom a physician must provide care. And until both parties receive full recognition of their human personhood, this subject is not going to go away, because we are talking about an act of murder committed under the guise of medicine. But I digress. Blackwell continues,

Drs. Joel Brind and Angela Lanfranchi are highly educated medical researchers. They head the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. Note their emphasis on prevention. It’s a word we rarely hear in politicized discussions of breast cancer. …

We need to pay greater attention to prevention strategies. Drs. Brind and Lanfranchi offer common sense recommendations, including these: 1. Reduce exposure to estrogen (such as that included in birth control pills, patches and injectable or implantable hormones). 2. Don’t smoke. 3. Exercise. 4. Maintain early body weight.  5. Have children earlier in life. 6. Breast feed your children. 7. Avoid induced abortion. 8. Avoid induced premature deliveries.

You can get more detailed information from the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute at 1.866.622.6237 (1.86NO CANCER) or by going online to www.bcpinstitute.org. Most of the debate over ObamaCare has focused too narrowly on some select issues—subsidies for abortion, the so-called public option (government health care), or coverage of illegal immigrants.

These are important questions, to be sure, but they’re only three of the hundreds of reasons why we should resist ObamaCare. We need to see how politicized medicine is simply bad medicine. We need to understand that politics is not the best place for decisions about your health care needs. We need to encourage those doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who uphold the Hippocratic Oath. They are not working for all of society. They hold their obligation to you, their patient, as a sacred trust. Isn’t that what you really want in a health care provider?

Indeed, Blackwell is on the right track, and Drs. Brind and Lanfranchi are thus not alone in pointing out the major health risks created by induced abortion and the ingestion of contraceptive chemicals. As is the case with anything that might give aborting a child a bad name, such research is rarely, if ever, acknowledged as credible, at least not by the “mainstream” media. Perhaps that is why the Washington Post avoids the obvious in its coverage of breast cancer prevention.

The debate over breast cancer screening guidelines serves as yet another harbinger of what might await us under Obama-style “health care reform”—wherein government bureaucrats, rather than you and your doctor, would decide how much and what kind of health care you would receive.

The next time Senator Harry Reid or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi show up on your television screen or are quoted in a local newspaper during their quest to pass Obamacare, don’t throw a shoe or light a match … send a message! Let them and your own members of Congress know exactly how you feel about the politicization of medicine.

To my mind, it is ridiculous, it is dangerous and it is just plain wrong.

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