Some good may come out of the Komen Foundation's hard right turn on abortion this week. It was about time, anyway, for a fundamental re-examination of Komen by people committed to the cause of cancer research.
You'll find a good summary of reasons to be worried about giving to Komen, even before this week's right-to-life train wreck, in a piece published last October in the Sacramento Bee. The Bee story reported that Komen has been giving less and less of its ample largesse to research in recent years anyway, spending more of it on self-promotion and merchandising. Komen has a frankly terrible rate of support for research compared with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The paper's main source was a book called Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health by medical sociologist Gayle A. Sulik, published in 2010 by Oxford University Press.
The book reported that between 2004 and 2010 Komen's contributions to cancer research fell from 23 to 16 percent of all the money it raises. The Bee story quotes Komen officials as rebutting those numbers, claiming instead that their contribution to research in that same period fell from 29 to 21 percent.
But here's the most interesting number. The rate of contribution to research by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, according to the Bee, is 88 percent.
Forget about this week's travesty, in which Komen stopped funding breast exams at Planned Parenthood clinics to curry favor instead with right-wing abortion foes. If your primary motivation in giving money is to aid breast cancer research, should you be sending your checks to Komen anyway?
And maybe even that is not the right place to stop asking questions. The Bee story raises a number of other provocative questions about Komen -- Does it make money selling carcinogenic perfume? -- and the story also brings up deeper issues in breast cancer research generally. Is the whole field of fundraising for breast research a distortion fueled by the subliminal fact that people are more favorably disposed toward breasts than other parts of the body?
OK, listen: At some point in too many years of columnizing, I've come out against just about everything else, but I draw the line here. I am not coming out against breasts. I think it's perfectly OK for people to have breasts. You're fine. As you were, and carry on.
But it's probably fair to suggest, also, that a really high-minded approach to cancer research for those of us who know pretty much nothing about it might be turn our money over instead to scientists and researchers without any particular anatomical strings attached. We could let them decide where to put it. Just thinking out loud here.
In the meantime, I hope we will be seeing a lot more of Sulik on the morning talkies over the next few weeks. The healthy outcome in this, for people who do care about research but are angry at Komen, is not to give up giving. It's to find another place or way to give.
And, by the way, do you think all the people taking part in those pink ribbon runs for Komen knew that a fifth or less of the money they raised was going to cancer research? I've just been doing some quick figuring on Google maps. To run a full mile down Oak Lawn Avenue from my office at the corner of Maple and Oak Lawn, I would have to run past Lemmon all the way to Gilbert and Blackburn, which is getting me way too close to the Park Cities anyway. If I go that close, I tend to get headaches from the cubic zirconia glare.
But if I'm running strictly for the benefit of cancer research, at the Komen rate I should be justified in doing 21 percent of a mile or 1,108.8 feet, which would take me down just about exactly to the neighborhood Starbucks, where I could pat myself on the back with a double cappuccino whole milk please.
Choices, people. It's all about choices.
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