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The Political Message of “Saving Milly”

The “Saving Milly” CBS movie was the story of how journalist and commentator Morton Kondracke was by his wife’s side as she struggled with Parkinson’s disease and finally passed away. Parkinson’s is a degenerative brain disorder whose characteristic symptom is uncontrollable shaking. An inspiring story of true love, this was a tremendous movie that had a spiritual message. That’s rare on television these days. But it also had a political message: spend more federal money to find a cure. Kondracke serves on the boards of the Parkinson’s Action Network and the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Fox appears at the end of the movie to urge more attention to the disease. 

On the Beltway Boys show on the Fox News Channel, Kondracke called for more spending on the disease and blasted the Bush Administration for “cutting medical research below inflation.” His co-host, Fred Barnes, who usually defends the Bush Administration, was silent on that point.

The movie has some fascinating dialogue in which Kondracke examines the figures on federal spending on various diseases, and comments about AIDS getting so much more. He’s told this is because celebrities have convinced Congress to put more resources into the search for a cure for AIDS. Parkinson’s gets its own celebrity, Michael J. Fox, who is shown on television testifying before Congress about the need to spend more on the disease.

There is something wrong with a system that spends money on diseases in relation to how much attention they get from celebrities and the media. That is, unfortunately, how Congress works. That is why we don’t see much discussion of the view that too much federal money is being spent on some diseases, at the expense of others. There is no celebrity making that case.

However, the latest figures we have seen from the federal Centers for Disease Control show that, in 2003, 17,000 people died from Parkinson’s. About 14,000 died from AIDS. The FAIR Foundation, which monitors federal spending on various diseases, has put together a chart on government research spending per death. You can find its chart at http://www.fairfoundation.org/update.htm [1] The group says that the National Institutes of Health is spending about $178,000 per patient death from AIDS. That compares to $14,000 per patient death from Parkinson’s.

For purposes of comparison, consider that 63,000 died from Alzheimer’s disease. The federal government spends nearly $12,000 per patient death from Alzheimer’s.

The FAIR Foundation chart shows that federal spending on AIDS greatly overwhelms spending on any other disease, although Parkinson’s does come in a distant second in terms of spending per death.

The cynical Washington Post television writer, Tom Shales, panned the film “Saving Milly,” and even criticized the members of the Family Friendly Programming Forum who sponsored it. Shales was upset that the film contained “no substantive criticism of the American health care system, even though it’s considered an outright disaster in some quarters?”  Shales didn’t mention the dramatic inequities in federal funding for various diseases. That’s where serious criticism is warranted.  But if he makes such criticism in the pages of the Post, he will come under attack by the homosexual lobby.  

Other reviewers were touched by the film. Mike Kelly of the Toledo Blade commented that “Saving Milly” painted “a clear-eyed portrait of a family’s frustrating fight against Parkinson’s disease, a relentless and debilitating foe?and it reveals that the weapons available for that fight are limited in no small part by a puzzling lack of resources committed to finding a cure for the affliction.”

Chase Squires of the St. Petersburg Times said that the epilogue by Michael J. Fox offered hope and demands attention. “If ‘Saving Milly’ raises awareness and resolve to defeat a dreadful disease, then it can’t be wrong,” he said.

It’s all fine and good to raise hope and get people emotional. But it would be more productive to reform the federal policies used to determine funding distributions for various diseases. Filmmakers and commentators seem to be afraid to stand up to the power of the AIDS lobby. And that’s another tragedy.