On a cold December day in 1971, Richard M. Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, signed a bill in front of a packed White House room and proclaimed that it was “an early Christmas present for the American people.”
That bill was The National Cancer Act. Outlined in the document were plans to create a new research infrastructure with enormous resources devoted to fighting the disease. The media quickly dubbed it “Nixon’s War on Cancer.”
However, Nixon was initially reluctant to partition money into a large public health bill and, in fact, originally planned to cut the budget for cancer research. Yet, with continued pressure, especially from individuals such as health activist and philanthropist Mary Lasker and her eponymous foundation, President Nixon made his case in front of the American people during his January 1971 State-of-the-Union Address.
“The time has come in America when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease,” President Nixon declared. “Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal.”
Brimming with jubilation from having put two men on the moon just a few years earlier, political bluster knew few boundaries, and many pontificated about cancer’s cure by the time the bicentennial had rolled around. Now, more than 45 years later, the public continues to ask where the cure is and what is to show for the money that has been spent.
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