For several years, I ended my emails with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln: "Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure." I hoped that Lincoln's words would inspire elected officials to provide health benefits to 9/11 first responders.
Despite the January 2011 passage of the Zadroga Act, groundbreaking legislation for responders to national disasters, a noticeable problem still existed: Those suffering from cancer would not be covered for health care, nor compensatory benefits. Instead, a committee was formed to monitor and evaluate cancers in the 9/11 community and to make recommendations to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
After reviewing medical research and other data, the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee recommended about 50 types of cancer for inclusion for coverage under Zadroga. Earlier this month, Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH, accepted this expanded list ["9/11 first responders: health care victory," News, June 9]. This decision holds true to the tenets of our democratic government and announces proudly that the federal government continues to hold Lincoln's words in high esteem.
Howard's recommendation has come under fire from some scientists who do not believe there is enough data to substantiate the decision ["Experts say science lacking on cancer, 9/11," News, June 21]. These experts argue that continued research is prudent before assisting those who ran into burning buildings or sifted through rubble for hundreds of hours in hopes of saving lives. Of course, these arguments miss the point and, often, reflect a lack of moral compass.
If you listen to epidemiologists and medical experts, research would take decades to produce clear scientific evidence that the development of a particular cancer is causally connected to a particular environmental exposure. While researchers do their studies, hundreds of first responders will die, leaving families with heartache and overwhelming medical bills, and without just compensation. Failure to provide these men and women with health care and the peace of mind that their families would be OK upon their passing would be just that, failure.
The Preamble to the Constitution makes clear that we bestow upon our government the power to protect our rights and interests to "promote the general welfare" and "insure domestic tranquility." No better a case exists for the exercise of governmental discretion to promote the general welfare than coverage of 9/11 first responders with cancer.
There is enough evidence for strong arguments in support of each of the cancers recommended for inclusion in Zadroga. In this instance, science will have to catch up to common sense.
John Feal, Nesconset
Editor's note: The writer is the founder of the FealGood Foundation, a first-responder advocacy group.