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Jewish World Review March 13, 2000 /6 Adar II, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Katie and the
politics of disease

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- SHE IS PRO-CLINTON, pro-abortion, anti-gun, and unbearably smirky-perky, but for once, I'm going to say something nice about Katie Couric. The NBC morning talk show host's new educational awareness campaign against colon cancer is a praiseworthy public service.

At first glance, Couric's effort may look like just another typically self-serving, left-wing media crusade. But unlike red- and pink-ribbon-clad gay activists and feminists who exploit illnesses to increase their political clout and hog a disproportionate amount of federal research dollars, Couric has embraced an unglamorous pet cause without an ideological agenda.

After her 42-year-old husband succumbed unexpectedly to colon cancer in 1998, Couric established a non-profit foundation to promote preventative screening. This week, she graced the cover of Time magazine, appeared before Congress, and anchored a five-part health series on the Today Show. Couric opened herself up to viewers literally -- by undergoing a colonoscopy on camera.

The televised exam invited ridicule from some insensitive snobs, but it helped break a longstanding and unhealthy silence about the disease. "Colons. Rectums. Bowels. Not exactly the stuff of cocktail party conversation," Couric joked during her congressional testimony. On a serious note, she added, such embarrassment can be deadly.

Roughly 140,000 new colon and rectal cancer cases are diagnosed in the United States every year; an estimated 56,000 Americans will die of colorectal cancer in 2000 -- making it the second leading cause of death due to cancer, after lung cancer, even though it is one of the most treatable and survivable of all cancers if detected in time.

Couric did not have to exaggerate statistics. Nor did she lobby for increased public funding and government research. She simply wants to lessen stigmas and call public attention to proven, cost-effective screening tests for colon cancer that can save tens of thousands of lives.

In the world of celebrity disease lobbyists, alas, Couric is the exception to the rule.

Entertainment heavyweights such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, and Sharon Stone have succeeded in manipulating federal health policy to snag research and treatment funding for their politically correct diseases du jour: AIDS and breast cancer. In 1998, these illnesses received $2,400 per patient and $230 per patient in research tax dollars respectively, compared with $28 per patient for diabetes even though that unsung disease killed more people last year than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

To pay for recent increases in AIDS and breast cancer spending, federal science officials were forced to cut basic research funding for leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and cancers of the colon, bladder, kidney, and brain, as well as for public information and chemoprevention. The budgeting process for medical research is a zero-sum game, with PC diseases siphoning off the most money at the expense of others' lives.

Couric
Every death from disease is a tragedy. But a research funding system driven by public relations, rather than public health priorities and sound cost-effectiveness criteria, is a faulty cure. And as the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee George W. Bush proved in recent weeks with ads touting his support for ever more government breast cancer funding, conservatives are no more immune to the politics of affliction than liberals.

The ultimate remedy may be to get the government completely out of the business of disease research. Until then, Katie's colon cancer campaign is a model for what the media can do to counterbalance the overpoliticized disease wars. Instead of hyping the risks of fashionable illnesses embraced by Hollywood, report on the realities of the world's mundane health threats.

An estimated 1million children, for example, die of diarrhea every year. In the U.S. - here in this wealthy, industrialized nation - some 55,000 kids are hospitalized annually by the virus. Yet there's no brown ribbon campaign for these victims. No National Diarrhea Month.

Perhaps this could be Katie's next crusade?


JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.

Up

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate