Yesterday it was announced that Bernadine Healy M.D., had died of complications from cancer at the age of 67.
For all this bullshit that we used to get exposed to about 'compassionate conservatism' - before it became obvious that such a term was a fruitless oxymoron as perfected by the walking doofus, Mr George W. Bush - it is salutory to consider the life of such an individual who I would argue did much good in her life; and the tragedy is not that she died; she lived a full life and acomplished much and was an inspiration to people with cancer everywhere. No, the sad part is that she actually believed in compassionate conservatism and I don't know if at the end of her life she realized that there is no way to square that particular circle. This should give us a moment of reflection. I can't help but wonder if there is a parallel between her and what happened at the end of Mother Theresa's life: She realized that she now didn't believe everything she thought she once believed in so passionately. If so that is sad indeed.
Naturally, from what I have seen, no Republican today gives a damn about her, save perhaps for the few diehards who either knew her personally or still believe that compassionate conservatism can be made to exist.
For details of Dr Healy's life, I refer to The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Healy was the second of four girls raised in the New York City borough of Queens. Her parents lost their own fathers young and ran a small perfume business in the family's basement.
Bernadine wanted at first to be a nun but switched at age 12 to medicine. With her parents' encouragement, she became valedictorian of the magnet Hunter College High School in Manhattan, graduated with highest honors at Vassar College, earned a medical degree at Harvard and completed her training at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
She spent two years at the National Institutes of Health, then returned to Hopkins as a professor. She became assistant dean of the medical school and director of its hospital's Coronary Care Unit.
In 1984, President Reagan made her deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Policy. She was also chair of the Cabinet Working Group on Biotechnology and executive secretary of the Science Council's Panel on the Health of Universities
And that standby wikipedia
Healy was director of the Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation when President George H. W. Bush tapped her in 1991 to become director of the NIH, its first woman head. The agency had been without leadership for almost two years, and she was charged with refocusing research priorities and addressing bureaucratic and political issues that were jeopardizing the agency's mission at the time.
Healy took on many initiatives during her two years at the helm. Among them, she oversaw the development of a major intramural laboratory for human genomics and recruited a world-renowned team to head the Human Genome Project, elevated nursing research to an independent NIH institute, strengthened a policy whereby the NIH would fund only those clinical trials that included both men and women when the condition being studied affects both genders, and facilitated reentry of three behavioral institutes that had been separated from the NIH previously because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
Perhaps Healy's most widespread NIH brainchild was the Women's Health Initiative, a $625 million effort to study the causes, prevention, and cures of diseases that affect women at midlife and beyond. The study continues to unearth critical information, including evidence in 2002 that combined hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of invasive breast cancers by 26% and heart attack by 27%, as well as an increased risk for stroke. The study's findings have resulted in a permanent 15% annual reduction in invasive estrogen positive breast cancer in post menopausal women in the U.S.; The HRT (hormone replacement) drug market in the U.S. simultaneously dropped by $1 billion, twelve months after the study's results were publicized, as 60% fewer women stopped filling their HRT prescriptions.
Healy's impact on research policy reaches far beyond her NIH term. As president of the American Heart Association from 1988 to 1989, she sought to convince both the public and medical community that heart disease is also a woman's disease, "not a man's disease in disguise." Appointed president of the American Red Cross in 1999, Healy worked to improve the safety and availability of the American blood supply while overseeing the development of a Weapons of Mass Destruction response program. In 2001 she led the organization’s response to the September 11 attacks
As someone who was diagnosed with a lethal form of brain cancer while her career was still going strong, and survived it for many years, she wrote a book about it that deserves mentionaing and that is worthwhile reading: Living Time: Faith and Facts to transform your cancer journey
Naturally, In trying to be an tremendously intelligent woman, within the confines of the Republican party, she had to do a lot of political cortorting and in the end was rejected by her own party for a senate run. She actually lobbied at one point for the continuation of the senior Bush's ban on stem cell research, a position I think as a catholic she was very conflicted about. Her tenure at the NIH and the Red Cross was not without controversy and can be well referenced on the web. She supported the patenting of genes in the human genome, allowing undeserved exclusivity to biomed research firms. She even - and this is actually a position of hers with which I disagree most - thought that the autism vaccination controversy still had reasonable science on both sides, even though this is patently not true, and even suggested in a very ill-chosen choice of words, that there was an effort to supress research on this very question. Indeed, The Age of Autism anti-vaccine advocacy group named her 2008 Person of the Year.
And yet, there is something beyond this unseemly spectacle of an honors graduate from Hopkins and Harvard prostituting her work and expertise for our C-average Presidential disappointment, G.W Bush. She supported the morning after pill, for one, in a quote I think deserves repeating:
Blame and regret. We can blame the sexual revolution, women's lib, the Internet, or a society that grooves on Sex and the City for creating women's morning-after dilemma. But that will not help the individual woman waking up to a broken condom, a missed birth control pill, or a totally unplanned sexual encounter. Even abstinence has its contraceptive failures. But Mother Nature offers a time-sensitive reprieve -- pregnancy does not occur overnight. Medically, it requires implantation. It takes almost six days for an egg to find its way to the uterus and no less to establish a pregnancy should it meet a sperm along the way. A pulse of high-dose progestin (that's what the morning-after pill is) will in a matter of hours slow sperm down, suppress ovulation, and make the uterus hostile to egg implantation. An existing pregnancy is not harmed; a possible pregnancy is intercepted, in the nick of time. Thus the imperative for placing these pills over the counter, right next to the condoms. Not a bad idea, since pills don't prevent sexually transmitted diseases and condoms do."
Har advocacy of women's issue was overall strong. I have already quoted the effects of the study which saved lots of lives by showing that combination hormone therapy ioncreased a womens chance of heart attacks and strokes. She was unequivocal about the rejection of the US preventative Services Task Force guidelines on mammography (even though there is merit in their position too, something she surely would have known). More than anyone else, I think, she brought the question of Womens heart disease to public attention; as a women cardiologist - and when she started it was and to some extent still is a male dominated profession - she was very well placed to speak out on a topic which kills way more women annually than breast cancer.
I suppose, in her last gig writing columns for the U.S. News and World report, she had to be somewhat, lets just say, stingy in praise of health care reform.Certainly she criticized the health care reform effort. But her criticism was nuanced, backed by science, and although I don't agree with it served at least as an educated opinion deserving of serious consideration. Alas, being the society we live in, her opinions counted for little in the current debate, while the mainstream media breathlessly reported on Sarah Palin's fantasy of 'Death Panels'.
In sum, then what we have here is the irreplaceable death of someone who could have maybe injected a little reason into the current rancid incarnation of the Republican party, or, looked at another way, someone who will not, for the forseeable future, have any option of being anything in a party that worships the unreason of Palin, the laughing at science of a Rick Perry, and the wide eyed craziness of a Michelle Bachmann. Actually, that's too facile. I would say more basically, this is a brilliant individual who lived to see her party reject intelligence, academic achievement (have you seen Perry's transcript ) and must have realized at the end what happens to honesty when it is met with a fundamental dishonesty; when you place your intelligence, no matter how formidable, at the command of dimwits. An object lesson to the intelligent everywhere. R.I.P. Dr Healy; I don't think you want to see what your party will devolve to in the future.