Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2004 / 6 Tishrei, 5765

Lewis A. Fein

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Consumer Reports

Cancer issues a press release | For anyone who is a cancer survivor (or claims a close friend or relative as a victim of this awful disease), the images speak for themselves: sterile machinery, countless needles, a tragic wince, the collective pain of patient and family alike, even the arrival of clergy -- a final ordering before an enemy of such ferocious energy that no one - not even the strongest man alive - can overcome this villain of nature. Cancer is a condition that, precisely because it is an indiscriminate killer of young and old (of all who value life), must be above the media exploitation of spin doctors and greedy physicians. And, given the obvious sensitivity of this subject and its political implications, all citizens need to ask the same important question: Why is Ketchum Communications, a huge public relations firm, representing both the federal government and a controversial interest group, in a move that can only hurt the very Medicare reforms that will help those stricken with cancer?

Ketchum's simultaneous work on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) is so blatantly conflicted - and such a betrayal of the public trust, in my opinion - that the people who will suffer from this corruption are themselves the sufferers: the individuals quarantined in hospital rooms and warehoused in hospice centers nationwide, the brave who cheat death. For Ketchum continues to bill HHS for its promotion of the Medicare Modernization Act, while it helps ASCO undermine the government's ability to determine how much cancer doctors should be paid for the drug treatments they give their patients.

Since Ketchum's dual representation is a violation of a sacred trust, Public Interest Watch ( believes all taxpayers should know about this behavior and its economic fallout. (Full disclosure: I am the interim executive director of PIW, for whom I perform - outside of my actions as a private citizen - nonpartisan activities that examine the abuse by particular organizations with extraordinary privileges, Ketchum included.) Indeed, Ketchum's strategy can only produce the one outcome that suits its own interests -- stalemate. Any other alternative - a clear victory for HHS or a decisive blow by ASCO - immediately eliminates one half of the duo that lines Ketchum's pockets.

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Would a lawyer act as both a prosecutor and defense counsel? Would any other professional conflate responsibilities with rewards, flagellating himself against the riches he takes at the price of improved healthcare and individual betterment? Hardly. And ASCO's scare tactics make this situation even worse: the group disingenuously argues that changes in Medicare will prevent cancer doctors from treating their patients, thereby ruining the already fragile will of people with this deadly disease. The facts, of course, are completely different. But there is no limit ASCO apparently will not breach - and there is no boundary Ketchum presumably will not violate - for the selfish ends of a handful at the expense of the one constituency too frail to raise its voice and pound its fists -- the people, one member of my immediate family included, who must fight a losing battle with cancer.

Ketchum needs to level with the American taxpayer, and sever its relationship with ASCO. There can be no suspicion of impropriety in situations of such grave consequence. The price is too high, and the people too many, for a group to manipulate public policy. We all have a vested moral interest in a just conclusion to this dispute. The principle rule for ASCO should be to uphold that great doctor's oath: First, do no harm . . . and fire Ketchum!

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Lewis A. Fein