Friday, May 8, 2009

Cancer as a Political Issue

For the eight years of the Bush administration, our political were dominated by an irrational fear of terrorism. Even now, with President Obama providing immeasurably better leadership, terrorism still plays far too large a role in our political debate. Terrorism killed a total of approximately 3,000 people in the continental United States on September 11, 2001. It has killed approximately zero since then.

Cancer, on the other hand, kills thousands of people every day. Cancer is the greater threat to public health, by a huge margin. In fact, in terms of the threat to publich health, terrorism is lower than the common cold, while cancer is at the very top of the list. As far as I am concerned, a death by terrorism is no worse, and maybe in some ways much better, than a death by cancer. Yet, we spend far more money on preventing terrorism than we do preventing cancer.

The most important function of a government is to do for the people what they cannot do for themselves individual. This includes things like building roads, maintaining a currency, national defense and disease control. Basic cancer research is far too expensive and far too long term for any individual to undertake it alone. Only the government can fund it adequately.

Moreover, the benefits of successful advances benefit not just all Americans, but everyone on the entire planet -- as well as everyone who is born in the future. The market cannot provide adequate incentives under those circumstances.

If there is anything that our government should do for us, it is to fund basic cancer research and make the result as widely available as possible. This is something that we all have an interest in, and it should be a major political issue, well ahead of relatively smaller threats, such as terrorism.

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