I just read a story in the NY Daily News regarding the embattled Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who held the reins over that institution for the last 20 years. For those of you that don’t know, he’s been charged by the US Attorney’s office for corruption and accepting bribes over the years. Interestingly, much of the Federal authorities corruption case against him involves a doctor and research for mesothelioma, the lung cancer caused primarily by exposure to asbestos.
Dr. Taub, the director of the Mesothelioma Research Center at Columbia Medical Center was recently dismissed from his position because of the scandal associated with Mr. Silver. According to the NY Daily News, Dr. Taub had one of the biggest mesothelioma centers in the country and referred his patients to a law firm that specialized in suing companies that exposed employees to asbestos; employees who later contracted mesothelioma.
Mr. Silver was “of counsel” with the law firm and over the years, with the increased referrals by Dr. Taub, Mr. Silver was given $3.2 million in kickbacks from the firm. For his efforts, Dr. Taub received $500,000 in state funding for mesothelioma research, ostensibly due to Mr. Silver’s involvement. Additionally, Dr. Taub had a relative on a board that received $25,000 in state funding thanks also to Mr. Silver.
So what are my thoughts on this? Obviously, kickbacks are wrong, encouraging lawsuits is a little questionable, everyone making money on others’ misfortunes is shameful. But there’s something else that really grinds my gears.
Mesothelioma is a disease that’s almost exclusively associated with asbestos – a product used in the past for insulation but almost never used anymore. Mesothelioma occurs in about 3000 people per year currently, but logically it’s a type of cancer that will gradually decrease to zero since asbestos exposure is very rare now. Consequently, mesothelioma is one of the rarest cancers out there. What’s my point?
It’s a shame that through this graft and corruption, money wasn’t directed to a disease that could help a greater portion of the public. Consider this: if the $500,000 diverted from state funds cured heart disease or more common forms of cancer, we might consider the means justifying the ends.
But that’s not what happened. Funds were used to treat a very rare disease that’s 100% fatal. I’m sorry for the loss of these patients and their families’ anguish, but when it comes to public health, resources need to be used wisely and in a way that helps the greater population. I’m not suggesting that we avoid research for curing rare diseases. There’s certainly a place for that. What I am saying is that if you’re going to steal money for research, use it for the largest demographic of patients in need. Maybe it’s a twisted application of logic, but logic nonetheless.