It's highly unfortunate timing for the Obama administration that two new cancer-screening recommendations have been made by government and independent medical groups in a week where the president is seeking legislation for his historic health-care reform bill. While the measures have sparked intense controversy, it's irresponsible and disingenuous for Republicans to label these new guidelines as partisan-based and illustrative of the sort of "rationing" they claim reform will bring. Just like global warming, health-care has become overly politicized, and some things simply aren't political. We all breath the same air, drink the same water, and can contract cancer regardless of political persuasion.
The first finding, announced earlier in the week by the federal Preventive Service Task Force, recommended less-frequent breast-cancer screenings for women under 50. The second was announced Thursday by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), offering new guidelines for pap smears in preventing cervical cancer, specifically that women should delay having them until the age of 21. As expected, both recommendations have unleashed a torrent of emotions and debate on both sides of the aisle, and from women's groups, cancer-prevention advocacy groups and within the medical profession. Now, I am neither a doctor nor a scientist, and I am not going to pretend to have anything but a personal, and highly visceral reaction to these new guidelines. But I will strongly argue against exploiting these very sensitive subjects for political purposes, which is shamefully what the GOP is doing as it attempts to kill the reform bill.
In one sense, the controversy may be somewhat overblown. The ACOG's pap smear findings are similar to what the medical profession has been suggesting for years about prostate cancer prevention. That it's healthier and more effective to screen for, and treat, this very slow-moving disease as men age rather than in earlier years, especially as false positives can lead to unnecessary and potentially harmful biopsies and subsequent side-effect-laden treatments.
But on the surface, the task-force's mammography recommendations seem outrageous and irresponsible. I for one belong to the "there can never be too much cancer-screening" camp. That's just a very seemingly logical mantra to adapt, in my neophyte, medically-uninformed opinion. And I say that as someone who's lost loved ones to this dreaded, ravenous disease. In fact, I hate cancer, and I'm all for spending as much time and money researching cures. But medicine and cancer prevention is not that simple, according to many individuals who have medical degrees hanging on their walls instead of pictures of Shakira (okay, my secret's out...). So I'm going to let the experts continue to argue the merits, or lack thereof, of reduced, increased or status-quo cancer-screenings.
And that's precisely my point: let's let the medical professionals, scientists and researchers do their job and keep the politicians out of this debate. Contrary to right-wing charges, both medical groups were established as apolitical (in fact, the task force was appointed by George W. Bush) and neither focuses on health care costs in drawing their conclusions. To be sure, there's too much at stake here to reduce such a colossally important medical matter to mere pawn-status in the anti-Obama wars of partisan zealots like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Ok) who are literally salivating at the "let's kill health-care reform" gifts they think they've been handed this week by the task force and the ACOG. What we don't need is more self-serving, duplicitous, inflammatory rhetoric about killing granny, rationing treatments and the perils of socialized medicine. Republicans must stop spreading lies in their insatiable hunger to deceive and manipulate Americans over health care reform. They must keep their personal emotions, religious beliefs and political motivations out of the debate. Haven't we learned anything from the Terri Schiavo case?