Politicizing Healthcare

The recent decision by the Susan G. Komen foundation to stop funding Planned Parenthood really caught my interest. The Komen Foundation initially announced they would not fund breast cancer screening for patients at Planned Parenthood because they have a policy saying they will give no funding to programs that "are under investigation." Planned Parenthood was "under investigation" because anti-abortion groups had complained about how they were using federal funds. Past allegations were made and Planned Parenthood had repeatedly demonstrated that absolutely no federal funding was every utilized to fund abortions.

The Komen Foundation's decision created a firestorm of controversy across the country. People nationwide, including Path2Parenthood expressed their support of Planned Parenthood. Many people including myself, believe that women have the right to access preventative healthcare like mammograms and pap smears, so they won't have to face a late-stage cancer diagnosis. Politics should not be a part of this type of equation for Planned Parenthood, Susan G. Komen Foundation, or any other organization offering healthcare.

A couple of days after their initial announcement, Nancy Brinker, founder of the Komen Foundation issued a statement saying, "We want to apologize to the American Public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives." She went on to say they were re-evaluating their grant process criteria. "Amending our criteria will ensure that politics have no place in our grant process." They rescinded their earlier statement and said they would resume their grant support of Planned Parenthood.

I had been a long time supporter of the Komen Foundation. My mother died of breast cancer 25 years ago and I have been a strong supporter of Komen ever since I lost her. Trust me when I say, losing someone you love to a long battle with cancer is something you never want to experience. I was shocked by the initial stand that the Komen Foundation took. I asked myself how could the leading organization that fights breast cancer take a position that would take a possible cancer diagnosis, deny care, and ultimately place women in potentially life and death positions?

Frankly, I never thought of Komen as having any sort of political bend. We all choose charities to support because they have special meaning to us. I never attach any sort of political agendas to health related programs like Komen or the Muscular Dystrophy Association for example. We can lend our support to politically based programs like The Republican or Democratic Party or the National Rifle Association.

We all know that people associate Planned Parenthood with doing abortions (3% of their services) and people have strong personal opinions about that. Some translate these feelings into political actions in connection with Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood describes itself as "the nation's leading sexual and reproductive health care provider and advocate." They report, "76% of our clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy." You can learn more about their mission and services at http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/planned-parenthood-glance-5552.htm They offer a variety of services like pap smears and blood tests that help women identify the sources of their infertility.

I have spent much of my adult life advocating for patient rights. I wrote my first book, Patient Power: How to Have a Say During Your Hospital Stay 25 years ago. In many ways today it feels like people's access and ability to afford healthcare today is even more problematic than it was when I wrote my book. Charitable organizations that align themselves with a particular medical diagnosis should offer medical, financial, and other support to stricken patients and their families. Politics should not be a part of their decisions about who to treat.

The Komen decision has placed this issue in the national spotlight. The line in the sand has been drawn and people are choosing their sides. I will be carefully watching the financial and public relations/marketing consequences for the Komen Foundation and for Planned Parenthood. How will this all impact people's ability to trust the Komen Foundation? Planned Parenthood has reported that they received $1 million in donations in the last few days so far in reaction to this situation. I am sure that anti abortion activists will raise their voices as well. I hope in the midst of all of this we don't lose sight of the priority, namely giving the people that need healthcare and can't afford it, access to funding sources and services so lives can be saved and a quality of life can be maintained. I believe at the very least we all deserve that.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.

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