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Rick Perry and Houston cervical cancer victim Heather Burcham

My 7-year-old son is named in honor of a beloved brother-in-law who died of melanoma at the age of 33.

My wonderful mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor.

Many other close relatives have succumbed to various types of cancer and suffered terribly.

My best friend from childhood, Tami, died of leukemia at age 12. She was effervescent, wickedly funny, and defiant until the very end. Her favorite t-shirt was bright purple with puffy capital letters that read: “CANCER SUCKS.” Here we are in November 1982 at a Philly children’s hospital a month before she passed:

I will never, ever forget her dazzling smile and fighting spirit.

I am sharing these personal stories with you because I continue to receive simple-minded attacks from Rick Perry supporters who are upset by my criticism of his ill-conceived and ill-fated Gardasil mandate. The general thrust of their e-mails and tweets is: “DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT CANCER?! WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST FIGHTING CANCER? WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH STANDING AGAINST CANCER?”

Yes, I care about cancer. No, I have nothing against fighting cancer. I repeat: There is nothing wrong with “standing against cancer.”

As Tami joked while cancer wracked her body and chemo made her sick to her stomach: CANCER SUCKS.

But that is not the central issue with regard to the Perry debate.

And using such embarrassingly reductionist arguments (criticizing Perry’s Gardasil mandate = supporting the spread of cancer) is a tried-and-true progressive tactic (Medicare reform = killing grandma, Social Security reform = robbing grandpa, public union pension reform = hating workers, welfare reform = hating poor people, opposing cap and trade = hating Mother Earth) that sensible conservatives should reject.

Perry sympathizers are now touting this “behind-the-scenes” personal story behind his mandate decision to defuse further criticism:

Until you’ve seen a special photograph, Craig Wilson says you don’t know the whole story of Rick Perry’s HPV vaccine decision.

“She’s happy as hell. I mean, she is just unbelievably ecstatic,” Wilson said. “Here she is on a beautiful ranch somewhere, riding on a motorcycle, which she’s never really done, with the governor of the state of Texas.”

The guy driving the motorcycle is Governor Rick Perry. The young woman on the back is Houstonian Heather Burcham, who was at that moment just 31 years old and a few months away from dying of cervical cancer.

Heather said in an interview prior to her death, “I feel like I’m not going in vain, because I can tell others about it.” When Heather was diagnosed, she set out to tell the world about her illness and the vaccine that would’ve prevented it. Her fear was that her pain and her death would mean nothing. She said, “I kept thinking, ‘What good can come from this?'”


After Governor Perry got in Texas trouble for signing an executive order in 2007 mandating the HPV vaccine, Heather tried to convince lawmakers to let it stand, and in the process met Governor Perry. But more than a meeting, it sparked a friendship. Long after the order was rescinded and Perry lost the political fight, they kept talking. Heather had Perry’s personal cell phone number and he invited her for a day at a friend’s ranch.

This is an intensely moving story and I am saddened by Burcham’s death.

But we all have moving stories. And basing rushed, top-down health care mandates on moving stories is bad public policy.

I’m glad Rick Perry is pro-life. But public officials cannot govern based on how they feel. They must think.

Their job is not to mandate life-saving interventions at any cost. Especially if the price is liberty-curtailment. (Listen to further discussion on this point at FreedomWorks radio here.)

“If it saves just one life” is a fiscally imprudent and morally irresponsible justification for massive government intervention — and antithetical to core Tea Party principles.

Moreover, the story now making the rounds is clearly an attempt to shift the spotlight from Perry’s Merck ties.

Just as I criticized Michele Bachmann for unwisely using one mother’s unvetted anecdote to bolster her criticism of Perry, I will repeat the warning against such demagogic tactics as the “erring on the side of life” defense. It’s a path that leads to the kind of heart-tugging Obamacare fables I’ve blasted for the past two years.

While the personal back story now being disseminated by Team Perry supporters may help explain why he did what he did, it does not in any way excuse it.

Nor does it bolster confidence that Perry’s bedrock understanding of the proper role of government in health care decisions is much different than Mitt Romney’s or Barack Obama’s.

That sucks, too.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Health care