- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s battle with a malignant brain tumor is likely to put a dramatic personal stamp on a health care cause he first championed nearly 40 years ago: the nation’s war on cancer.

Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, had already begun work on an overhaul of the 1971 National Cancer Act when his tumor was diagnosed, and advocates hope the fact that Mr. Kennedy has fallen victim to this disease will generate public support and lend new urgency to the need to update the bill.

“People think of Ted Kennedy as a fighter and as someone who has always been there for everyone,” said Daniel E. Smith, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm. “The fact that he now is fighting this disease is a jolt. It’s a wake-up call to everyone.”

“With that diagnosis, the irony for us is Senator Kennedy has been one of our great champions,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Kennedy, 76, has been a prominent and passionate advocate of cancer research and other health care issues throughout his long tenure in the Senate.

His name has become virtually synonymous with the push for universal health care coverage. He was a leader in enacting several landmark bills, including the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill protecting workers from losing health insurance when they switch jobs, or from being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

He has been instrumental in promoting biomedical research, AIDS research and treatment, a national bone marrow donor registry and anti-tobacco bills.

“With his legacy in health care, this could be an incredible crowning achievement for him,” said Hala Moddelmog, a breast cancer survivor and president and CEO of the cancer-fighting foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure. “I really think people will rally behind it, I really do. I think they already were starting to - and this will just bring it home to people.”

Mr. Kennedy, who has been working closely with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, plans to file the legislation in the coming weeks, an aide said Friday. As one of the Senate’s shrewdest lawmakers and deal makers, Mr. Kennedy is known for joining forces with Republicans to win passage of major bills.

“His work is pretty much unparalleled in the area of cancer in many ways, and we’re excited about the possibility of this bill moving forward because he wants to address cancer in a comprehensive way,” Mr. Smith said.

The bill Mr. Kennedy plans to put forth seeks to improve the coordination of cancer research, prevention and treatment while giving more money to the National Cancer Institute and other public research agencies.

Congress is on a Memorial Day recess, and it is not clear when Mr. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will be back on Capitol Hill. He returned to his family’s Hyannis Port, Mass., compound last week after being released from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Mr. Kennedy emerged as a leader in winning passage of the National Cancer Act after he became chairman of the Senate’s health subcommittee in 1971. At the time, there was wide concern about cancer as the nation’s second-leading cause of death.

His family has been touched by cancer over the years - two of his children, Kara and Edward Kennedy Jr., are cancer survivors. Edward M. Kennedy Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12, and Kara was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago.

Both were given a 15 percent chance of survival, but are cancer-free now. The senator threw himself into their care, finding the best medical advice and treatment options for them.

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