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Thursday, March 22, A.D. 2012
Political Medicine

When a society no longer orients itself to the common good, there is anarchy. Each man acts for his own gain, and each collection of men that can cooperate to secure a bigger piece of the social pie operates for its own faction’s interests. Every man and every group become pirates on the high seas instead of citizens in a commonwealth. Unfortunately, interest groups and tribal factions have come to dominate America; one might ask what Madison would think about our current state of affairs. These factions do agree on a few points. They all want to channel as many public funds to themselves as they can. Therefore, they all constantly push for the growth of Leviathan: the bigger the state, the more swollen teats of the public sow from which they may suck their nourishment.

One sees this competition to milk the public treasury in the clamoring for medical research funding. One may justly question the government’s spending public money on medical research; a sure way to avoid interest groups’ meddling is to remove the piglets from the sow altogether. However, one may also reasonably assert that promoting health and fighting disease are fitting actions of a state that aims toward the common good. If we accept that, then public funding should favor epidemiology to prevent outbreaks that would threaten social stability or continuity. I would generally follow utilitarian principles to decide funding for lower medical priorities; more money should go to address medical issues that affect more people. We could also add an element of justice to our consideration. It makes more sense to me to fund medical research for diseases that occur through no fault of their victims rather than for conditions that largely result from irresponsible lifestyle choices. Moreover, public health funding may be better allocated in preventing such unhealthy conditions rather than in treating them. For instance, it might be more efficient to promote healthy eating and exercise than to develop better drugs for diabetes.

However, our medical funding decisions follow from the power of interest groups. Consider the funding for HIV/AIDS research. HIV/AIDS is a largely preventable disease. If people acted responsibly, it would mostly disappear. It also affects a small number of Americans compared to other diseases. The Congressional Research Service states that the federal government has funded $337,324,000,000 for HIV/AIDS since A.D. 1982. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, $129,600,000,000 of that has been spent in the last five years. That is a lot of money. AVERT provides the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1,142,714 people have been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States in the last thirty years. If we add the number of people with HIV, then we get about about 1,500,000 people who have contracted the disease. If we divide the money spent by the feds by the number of diseased people, we find that the federal governments has spent almost $225,000 for each American who has been infected with HIV, and this does not include state or local funding, private funding, or indirect federal funding.

I could not find any comprehensive figures for federal funding for other maladies, but the National Institutes of Health site lists their funds by category. Last year, N.I.H. spent $2,049,000,000 for cardiovascular research, while it spent $3,059,000,000 for HIV/AIDS. About 1,000,000 living Americans had HIV or AIDS last year. So, N.I.H. spent $3,059 on HIV/AIDS per afflicted person. However, according to the C.D.C., almost a quarter of all American deaths result from heart disease. About 1,255,000 Americans have a heart attack every year, and about thirty million Americans have been diagnosed with heart disease. So, N.I.H. spent about $73 on cardiovascular health per person afflicted. That means that N.I.H. spends almost forty-two times as much on HIV/AIDS per person afflicted as on heart disease per person afflicted. How could that be?

There are other examples of politically motivated funding discrepancies. Caroline May examines the difference between breast cancer funding and prostate cancer funding in The Daily Caller:

According to estimates from the National Institutes of Health, in the United States in 2010, 207,090 women and 1,970 men will get new cases of breast cancer, while 39,840 women and 390 men will likely die from the disease. The estimated new cases of prostate cancer this year — all affecting men — is 217,730, while it is predicted 32,050 will die from the disease. . . .

In fiscal year 2009, breast cancer research received $872 million worth of federal funding, while prostate cancer received $390 million. It is estimated that fiscal year 2010 will end similarly, with breast cancer research getting $891 million and prostate cancer research receiving $399 million.

There are more prostate cancer cases than breast cancer cases, and there are four prostate cancer fatalities for every five breast cancer fatalities. However, breast cancer funding is 223% of prostate cancer funding. Why?

Political muscle, of course. Homosexualist organizations see HIV/AIDS as a tribal concern, even though they have tried to convince the public otherwise. Similarly, American women have made pink ribbons omnipresent in society. Not only feminists but average American women have successfully lobbied for increased breast cancer funding. Still, breast cancer funding pales in comparison with HIV/AIDS. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 226,870 women and 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, while 39,510 women and 410 men will die from the disease. For comparison, around 40,000 HIV diagnoses will occur and 20,000 deaths. However, HIV/AIDS federal funding is over twenty times higher. We do not really know all the factors that lead to breast cancer, but we absolutely know what causes HIV transmission. Why is there this discrepancy? It is because homosexualists care more about HIV/AIDS than women care about breast cancer. Politicans respond to noisy, persistent interest groups, and red ribbons are more convincing than pink ones.

Beyond red and pink, black remains the dominant color when one thinks of identity group politics in America. However, I have long suspected that the “leaders” in the black community—community organizers, you might say—are not very interested in the good of the community that they allegedly represent. Rather, racial shakedown artists like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and their many bros of ill repute are more interested in lining their pockets with corporate extortion money. The black elite lives the life of Riley even as the black community at large becomes ever more dysfunctional and dystopic. Accordingly, I wondered what I would find when I looked into the federal funding of the most visible “black disease”—sickle cell anemia. Heart disease is the number one health problem of black Americans, but as it kills everyone, it is not a championed cause for any particular faction. Well, “Sickle Cell Disease: A Question of Equity and Quality” in Pediatrics confirmed my suspicions:

For example, for fiscal year 2003, the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s total revenue was $498,577, compared with $152 million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a 300-fold difference that has substantial implications for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s ability to support research and advocacy.

N.I.H. spent $65,000,000 last year on sickle cell disease. The American Society of Hematology estimates that about 90,000 Americans have the condition. That means that N.I.H. spent $722 on sickle cell disease per afflicted person. That is ten times higher than cardiovascular health but less than a fourth of the HIV/AIDS level. Still, given the clout that blacks have as an interest group, it is surprising to see such a low number. J.J. has other concerns; not being a scientist or medical doctor, he cannot ride the medical funding gravy train to a new fleet of Cadillacs.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 22, A.D. 2012
Philosophy | PoliticsPermalink

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