November 2008

Yes, We Can - Put Radiation Oncology First!

By Michael J. Katin, MD

Only a few days remain until the Presidential Election of 2008 and the important swing bloc of Radiation Oncology has yet to publicly endorse a candidate. Senator Barack Obama has secured the support of such entities as the AFL-CIO, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, and the New York Times, and Senator John McCain is the choice of the National Rifle Association, Dick Cheney, Kelsey Grammer, and the Tampa Tribune. Considering the large number of people involved in the practice of Radiation Oncology, and those indirectly affected (fax machine repair specialists, disposable examination glove manufacturers, etc.), it would be important to take this time to determine which political party would be most worthy to benefit on November 4 from our backing.

It is necessary to ignore the rhetoric and look directly at the platforms of the various parties. The Democratic Party platform is 57 pages long, followed by 35 pages of appendices. There was a three-person standing platform committee consisting of Patricia Madrid, former Attorney General of New Mexico, Judith McHale, former CEO of Discovery, Inc., and Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, but the formulating of the platform was based on 1,645 meetings including 30,000 people between July 15 and August 8. I'm certain each of these 30,000 people made a unique contribution, but despite this, the number of times Radiation Oncology is mentioned: 0. The Republican Party platform is 60 pages long, including appendices, and a specific subcommittee was designated "Advancing a Healthier and More Competitive America." The two persons chairing this were Mary C. Mertz, an associate with Squires, Sanders, and Dempsey, an international law firm, and Steve King, a Wisconsin businessman who is currently CEO of Air Products, formerly Tomah Products, the world's largest producer of ether amines. According to Ms. Mertz' biography, she specializes in "political law and general commercial litigation" and is on the board of the Susan B. Komen Columbus, Ohio, Race for the Cure. In 1972 Mr. King was Special Assistant to Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. In addition to his work with ether, Mr. King is further qualified to determine health care policy by his having a daughter who is a physical therapist. The number of times Radiation Oncology is mentioned in the Republican Party Platform: 0.

It seems that every other constituency, ranging from animal rights activists to the Air Travelers Association has been asserting itself in order to be able to claim its rewards after its candidate is successful. This places us in a position of weakness, with only two options. One would be to start now to build for 2012, actively supporting every even remotely viable major party candidate, from Dennis Kucinich to Sam Brownback, in order that we will no longer be taken for granted. A second would be to latch on to a third party and steer it to promote the welfare of the Radiation Oncology community above all others, including national defense and poor children. A survey of the current third party situation is somewhat dismal, however. The options might include the Constitution Party, the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, , and America's Third Party. Unfortunately, the Constitution Party would believe that the Constitution says the Government should have nothing to do with health care. The Libertarian Party believes that everyone is responsible for his or her own health (and people who get diseases probably deserve them). The Green Party believes most diseases are caused by stress and can be treated with natural remedies,. America's Third Party may be our best bet, since its name is blissfully optimistic and since it seems to be directed by a relatively small number of people who can be easily co-opted, sorry, influenced. It even mentions the word "cancer" in its platform!

I would therefore encourage all of us in the Radiation Oncology world to consider writing in David Jon Sponheim for President and then start laying the groundwork to make the Third Party the First Party in 2012. We need to stay active to guarantee that the blessings of IMRT and IGRT can be preserved for ourselves and our posterity.

Power to the photon!