Treating cancer is a frustration for the best doctors, the ones who really care. Successful treatments are brutal. Surgery, poisonous chemotherapy, the effects of which must sometimes be mitigated with steroids, are debilitating to patients. The miserable life that victims lead, being slowly whittled away arm by leg by breast, sometimes is tentatively rewarded anxious years later with an announcement that the cancer is in remission. Often the misery is only a prelude to rapid deterioration and death.
But what if there was a drug that somehow targeted cancer cells? Well, scientists have been working on it. A drug that targets tumors by cutting off their oxygen has provided some promise. So doctors began trying it out in a clinical trial. It didn't work on its own. But when it was combined with other more traditional treatments things began to look hopeful. The drug retarded tumor growth in late-stage breast cancer.
But then the heavy hand of regulation stopped progress cold in its tracks. The FDA will not allow women with late stage breast cancer to use the drug.
These desperate women are not without allies. The manufacturer, Genentech, has rounded up some legislative pressure to change the ruling. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) says the prohibition is typical of the new regulatory direction of government, "the beginning of a slippery slope leading to more and more rationing under the government takeover of health care." He has been joined by 5 members of congress. Representatives Kay Granger (R-TX), Rodney Alexander (R-LA), Jo Bonner (R-AL), Tom Latham (R-IA), and Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) jointly signed a letter to the head of the FDA expressing their concerns with the hasty decision.
This is not the first time federal regulation has kept much need medication from women. Decades ago, drug manufacturer William S. Merrill came up with a significant advance, a drug to help alleviate the distresses that precede the miracle of birth. The medication, Kevadon, had been developed in Germany and was proven effective in more than 20 European countries and in Africa. It was a painkiller, a tranquilizer, and it was widely known for its effectiveness in dramatically reducing morning sickness, the frequent nausea and vomiting that plagues women beginning in the early stages of pregnancy. It had been used for years.
When it came time for routine FDA approval, one bureaucrat held it up, despite the fact that women in the United States were desperate for the same benefits enjoyed by women in other countries. The single holdout was not some outstanding icon in the medical community. In fact, her main claim to fame had been as a teacher at a small college in South Dakota. She was a recent hire, flexing her muscle, having been with the FDA for less than a month. Her demand was for more studies on top of those already documented. She based the delay on one English study that indicated a possible nervous system side effect. Her theory was that a lack of complete research in one tiny area might indicate some holes in other precautionary studies, a sort of clinical slippery slope. It was deliberation bordering on bureaucratic nitpicking. The drug was almost completely kept away from American women for more than 2 years. TWO YEARS.
There was some pressure brought to bear. You can't stop progress for long and expect no protest at all. Ordinary people became involved when the manufacturer distributed Kevadon pills for a while to doctors in the United States as a promotion.
Those of us in age groups with numbers that are uncomfortably high may remember the controversy. The generic name for the drug was thalidomide. In 1962, newspapers were filled with ghastly photos of Thalidomide children in Europe and Africa. The birth defects were a grim vindication of FDA caution. Affected children numbered in the tens of thousands. Exact figures were hard to get and may never be known. Only ten birth defects afflicted children in the United States, all from the promotional distribution. Frances Oldham Kelsey was the bureaucrat. In 1962, she was given an award by President Kennedy in appreciation for all the American children she had saved.
Today's anti-Cancer drug, the one that targets cancer tumors, is called Avastin. The FDA did approve it temporarily with the understanding that more study needed to be done. When those studies came back, it turned out the drug does retard breast cancer, but the effect is temporary, lasting for a few months. Then the cancer bounces back strong as ever. But the toxic side effects are like the under the breath warnings on television commercials: holes in the intestines, "tract perforations", are accompanied by kidney damage and heart failure. Yikes. A 12 member FDA board voted 11 to 1 to withdraw approval.
Back in the 1950's the FDA began testing for effectiveness as well as safety. It looked like a small change at the time. After Thalidomide, the FDA was given much broader authority when Congress passed the Kefauver-Harris Amendment, putting the new FDA approach into law and extending the agency's overview to other drugs.
The tens of thousands of adults still carrying the defects they were born with from Thalidomide might provide evidence that regulation ought not to be opposed so reflexively. US adults might join them if there was some way of identifying the thousands of children here who were saved by Frances Oldham Kelsey, the FDA's new hire in 1960.
Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) had been a hard nosed opponent of gay rights for nearly half a century. He not only voted against gay marriage, he pushed for a constitutional amendment to keep states from allowing gay marriage on their own. He vigorously opposed any sort of protection for gays against discrimination. He even spoke out against protecting gays from hate crimes. He lectured the Senate on how important it was "for us to stand up now and protect traditional marriage, which is under attack by a few unelected judges and litigious activists." Religious conservatives were crazy about him.
When he was detained for soliciting sex from a plainclothes police officer in an airport restroom, he protested that it was all a series of misunderstood movements. The defense that became the most famous was that his "wide stance" had been mistaken for a sexual advance when his foot caressed that of the officer beneath the stall. It was one of several gestures that finally led to his arrest. He eventually pleaded guilty, then tried to withdraw the plea. Previous incidents came up. "I am not gay," he insisted in a press conference. "I never have been gay." Nobody believed him. Anti-gay crusader, secret gay, Senator Larry Craig became ex-Senator Larry Craig.
The incident was startling to me beyond the scandal itself. It served as a reminder of something I happened to stumble upon decades before. A small article in a 1960s newspaper had reported on the trial of a man arrested in a restroom for soliciting sex from an undercover police agent. The solicitation was the suspect tapping his foot under the wall of an adjoining stall. Police said this was well known by homosexuals as a sexual signal. The judge found the man not guilty. Tapping a foot under a stall did not meet the standard of proof required for a guilty verdict. The man went free.
I remember agreeing with the reasoning and the verdict. How awful that an accusation of something so shameful was based on something so innocent. The poor fellow could have been tapping as some tune ran through his head. Who among us could be the next to be falsely arrested?
It did not occur to me at the time, or for many years thereafter, that the awful crime for which the accused was arrested was not awful and ought not to have been a crime. I did not reject the thought, exactly. It was not even that I did not give it a second thought. I did not give it a first thought. Rejecting homosexuality as perversion seemed at the very core of normalcy.
Solicitation was the crime to which Larry Craig pleaded guilty. Hypocrisy is a part of guilt that is beyond legality. But even at that I wondered. Is it possible that his own unquestioning acceptance of a bigotry that may have seemed so normal forced him to an uneasy truce with his own wide stance?
The way of much prejudice, I think, is not mad, drooling monstrosity. Evil can more often be, as Hannah Arendt pointed out 45 years ago, banal. We accept it, even embrace it, holding it close to our hearts because it seems so normal. We do not recognize it for what it is.
“I don’t have prejudices,” a man boasted to me during that era of my younger innocence. “I’ll tell you who is prejudiced, though. It’s those god damn Irish Catholics.” He spoke with all the vehemence of Bill O’Reilly on a red faced rant. He spoke without showing a hint of conscious irony.
I sometimes wonder what unexamined biases lie comfortable and undisturbed within my soul. Most of my life has been spent in companionship with patient expectation that wisdom would come if I waited long enough. Over the years, I have witnessed much, and it is true that I have learned. But the greatest wisdom I have acquired is surprise at how little wisdom has come to me with age. It turned out to be a bad bargain.
I should have stayed young.
I should have paid more attention to the organization of the Democratic Party. I was not only the leader of our nation, but I was also the leader of the Democratic Party. And I think I failed in that respect to keep the party united.
- - President Jimmy Carter, December 14, 2010
The video is pretty dramatic. A black parent is pictured as a recorded call is played. The parent is calling a school to demand answers. What will be done about a teacher who called a student the n-word? The administrator on the other end responds. Is this what happened to your child? The parent presses. Will the teacher be fired? Will the teacher still be allowed to teach? Will the teacher be allowed to continue using racial epithets?
The video reveals that a teacher has used just such language against a student and still teaches. Another teacher, a union official, in an informal setting talks about it. A colleague who used abusive language to a student in front of other students was merely demoted, still working with other students. She uses the n-word to quote the offender, the one still teaching.
The scene fades to a confrontation in a parking lot with the union official. This time she is the target. A microphone is in her face. Has she ever used the n-word? She is silent, shocked, and obviously angry. The scene then goes back to the black parent on the telephone. The administrator tells him that certain procedures must be followed before the offended teacher is punished. The incident must be verified. The teacher must be interviewed. The facts must be determined. Due process is in the negotiated contract. The black parent is understandably impatient. Who wouldn't be if his child had been verbally attacked on racial grounds? In all, 6 minutes documents that Teachers Unions are run by racists.
The video was produced by the same folks who smeared a social worker with heavily edited secretly taped conversations that made it appear that he was helping a pimp get government aid. In fact the social worker was in touch with police, begging them to investigate. That social worker not only lost his job, but his organization was shut down. You may have heard of it: ACORN.
In this case, the racial incident never happened. Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution looked into it. The black parent is a hired actor. But the teacher in the parking lot is real, although she is not a union official after all. Her name is Alissa Ploshnick and she has taught special ed in Passaic, New Jersey, for years. She was suspended by the school district after the video surfaced. She has been attacked by the Governor of New Jersey as an example of the evils of teachers unions.
It turns out the story she told to the friendly young man who bought her drinks and flattered her with attention was not true. It was simple barroom talk, falsehood told in the interest of provocative conversation.
We can speculate about how the teacher may have felt at the friendly attention. She is single, approaching 40, and bears the trauma of a serious incident 13 years ago. Her near death in 1997 is more than a source of our sympathy. She was hospitalized after she threw herself between a dozen endangered students and a speeding, out-of-control van. Her immediate reward included broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a badly bruised pelvis and glass cuts in her eyes. She did get a letter of appreciation from President Bill Clinton and she did save the kids.
The video that got her suspended by her employer, and attacked by Governor Chris Christie, is called "Teachers Unions Gone Wild." She does not hold any office in any union. Her primary duties are to teach, get run over by vans, and get smeared by friendly young conservatives with hidden cameras.
Writing has provided the unexpected benefit of new friends who are mutually supportive, appreciative, literate, and entertaining. Here are the sites of a few:
Gwendolyn Barry of Florida posts entertaining insight about everything from national affairs to the ups and downs of rent. Her current post at A New Global Myth takes aim at the backside of our departing President. She greets with glee the new White House resident.
Amber, from Texas, has eclectic interests. Her blog, creatively named Make Dinner, Not War is about recipes and politics and life in Texas, along with images and YouTube discoveries. She makes me laugh and makes me hungry. She brings in 2009 with plans for a photo project. Looks to be interesting.
Manifesto Joe turns his acerbic wit mostly on the foibles of conservatism. He often approaches his topic with vignettes of life in Texas. His style at Texas Blues is personal and unsparing. I like his writing a lot. I have never met him, but I think of him as an old and valued friend. He brings in the New Year with thoughts on Jazz, "America's classical music."
Max's Dad has a creative, breezy way with words. His Turn of the Year post drops this aside in the middle: "But Huckabee lost to an old guy who lost to a secret Islamic terrorist, so..." I try not to miss a single post.
No name on this one. I just like her style at Ravings of a Semi-Sane Madwoman. Social commentary combined with music.
Jack Jodell at The Saturday Afternoon Post provokes only one criticism. He only posts one or two posts every week. I find it worthwhile to scan his site often just in case. Jack is widely known for his unselfish encouragement of other bloggers. Google his name, and you will find his friendly messages everywhere. He is popular for good reason. A good guy.
The World of Doorman-Priest is about the adventures of an English student of religion and his wife. He is very funny and highly provocative: a master storyteller. I often entertain the one I love by recounting his tales.
The Hankster is mostly done by Nancy Hanks of New York, with other occasional contributors. Her mission seems more to inform than to persuade. She reports on other blogs with some analysis. A good read.
It's been year of widespread economic hardship, astonishing politics (PRESIDENT Obama), and fun blogging. We greet the New Year with audacious hope and prayers for peace.
I shook the hand of Jacob Javits one day. I met him on an elevator on Capital Hill. It was a rare thing. Most members of either house take special elevators reserved for them alone, and the public takes any of those that are more generally open. Perhaps there was a roll call or the reserved areas were crowded for some other reason, or perhaps Senator Javits was just less elite than most elected officials. It is not implausible. He was a political creature now almost extinct but fairly common in those days: a liberal Republican.
I thought of Javits and the downfall of the Republican Party...