Friday, February 3, 2012

No Longer In The Pink

Breast cancer is a scourge. It can, unchecked, eat away a woman's dignity, as well as her life. Like so many chronic, noncommunicable diseases, there is no cure, only treatment, and the treatment is sometimes worse than the disease in debilitation of the body and depression of the mind.

Sadly, I have been privy to the monster's ravages, both within my family, a friend's family, through an associate of my wife, and through the glimpses brought to light by people I follow on social media. Something which I had thought of in the abstract, has become only too clear and terrifyingly close to me in recent years, like a tide advancing and eroding the barrier between my quiet life and the bedlam of the raging sea.

So, when Susan G. Komen For The Cure decided to pull its funding of breast exams at Planned Parenthood, due to a "policy change," thereby depriving women of limited means access to critical health care, I became incensed. And I was not alone.

The "policy change" was spearheaded by the fund's Director of Policy, and stated that the fund would pull its funding from any organization or program that happen to come under investigation by authorities. Now, this would seem to be a prudent policy on the surface; no organization would want to be caught in the glare of publicity for funding another organization that might be engaged in malfeasance.

The trouble is, that the investigation that triggered the debacle, is less an "investigation" and more a "witch hunt," started by Rep. Cliff Stearns, who started it at the urging of -- of all possible groups -- an anti-choice organization, Americans United for Life, which claims Planned Parenthood has been using Federal funds for abortions, which is a violation of the highly contentious Hyde Amendment. The subtext is simple enough to decipher: anti-choice elements are attacking legal access to abortions by any means necessary.

Of course, enlisting the aid of Susan G. Komen for the Cure was not difficult; their recently hired Director of Policy happens to be a failed candidate for Governor of Georgia, Karen Handel, who ran her campaign with an anti-choice platform. The CEO and founder, Nancy Brinker, is a long-time associate of Republican causes, and was George W. Bush's Ambassador to Hungary as well as Chief of Protocol of the United States. The many and varied threads of this twisted narrative can be knit together into a fairly convincing picture of an organization throwing its weight behind the anti-choice cause, especially with the recent revelation that the foundation will also be withdrawing funding for stem-cell research.

Let it be said that as a private foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is allowed to what it thinks are in its bests interests. Let it also be said that the foundation has done as much, if not more, than any group in raising the awareness of breast cancer. But, given the prominence of "cure" in the name, and the fact that so little (roughly 17%) of its money goes toward finding that cure, and its tortuous attempts to manage the dialog about breast cancer by throwing its weight around, this transparent move toward the politicization of breast cancer and aligning itself with forces that do not have women's health at the forefront of their interests, leaves us disgusted.

No woman's health -- or any person's for that matter -- can be, or should be, made subject to the whims of personal politics and false morality. The extent of the hypocrisy in the "right-to-life" movement is well known, and their obvious attempts to place women into involuntary gestational servitude are reprehensible at a minimum. That such groups would now attack a woman's health beyond the womb by such blatant means only causes them sink further into the fetid morass of their pseudo-morality.

And now, as if to finally acknowledge that perhaps they made a mistake, an "apology," and a promise to restore the current grants to Planned Parenthood. But... if you read the fine print (emphasis mine):
We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.
So, the foundation, watching substantive support drain away by the minute, attempts to appease its detractors, by making it appear that they have reversed course, where a semantic analysis tells us otherwise. There is no promise here, no guarantee. Perhaps, thinking that a few months from now the dust will have settled, this seemed an expedient course. Hindsight will, of course, prove them wrong.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has lost its way. It is no longer -- if it ever truly was -- about a fight to end breast cancer. It is about appearance, reputation, gravitas, and power. It is about pink-coated gewgaws and tchotchkes, about guiding a narrative rather than supporting research, and exploiting a horrid disease in a self-indulgent and reprehensible manner. Slathering pink on things to peddle does not replace mammograms, breast exams, laboratories, and scholarships in biology and immunology. Effort and resources are better spent on the soldiers on the front line, than on the generals in the rear.

Will they learn from this? Only time can tell. It is up to those of us of good conscience to continue to apply pressure, lest Susan G. Komen for the Cure think they have weathered this particularly egregious storm. We must let them know that until they get their head out of the clouds and back into the game, the ill winds are still waiting for them, just beyond the horizon.

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