Friday, October 29, 2010

Race for Another Cure

I'm going to do something today I've never done before. I'm going to invite you to read something somebody else wrote.

And not just anybody. Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to the US Supreme Court in 1981, where she served until her retirement in 2006. One of the reasons O'Connor, one of the most popular and ground-breaking justices to serve on the nation's highest court, retired at what many considered to be an early age involved the increasingly ill health of her beloved husband who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. He died in 2009.

Along with two specialists, O'Connor wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times this week that issues a call for aggressive federal investment in finding a cure for Alzheimer's. Virtually everybody I've talked with about death says they would prefer to go in any way but that. Yet funding for a cure lags behind many more high-profile initiatives like AIDS research and breast cancer.

Say what you will about tax dollars being used to find medical cures for diseases; there's a strong case to be made for the government's unique ability to marshall critical resources for targeted strategies that benefit the common good. Particularly when something as devastating as Alzheimer's strikes its victims regardless of their politics, religion, personal health, income, or race. Perhaps more than anything else, Alzheimer's really is an equal-opportunity killer. And that's why we need to concentrate on eliminating it.

Some people may look at Alzheimer's like they do smoking. Arguments have been made that allowing smokers to continue playing Russian Roulette with their cigarettes actually helps keep population growth manageable, and can help minimize the number of elderly people who acquire other health issues which could be even more costly than lung cancer. The key to that mindset, however, which I in no way endorse, is that smoking is a personal decision for which the government should not be held accountable.

The difference with Alzheimer's should be obvious: we don't know the causes, we don't know how to prevent it, we don't know who it will strike, but we know it will be fatal. And before it's fatal, it will be utterly awful for its victim and their family.

This is where O' Connor's plea comes in. Please click here to read it yourself. Don't consider it a diatribe of angst from a woman who's simply suffered the death of her husband. The life you save by supporting Alzheimer's research may be your own.

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