Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has announced that, despite growing protest, it will not cancel its February 18th fundraiser at Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort. But it also said it would not go back to “controversial venues” in the future. That’s not good enough.
Dana-Farber should cancel. In defense of this decision, the institute’s president and CEO, Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, said that contracts have been signed and a large number of people have committed to attend. “Cancelling the event outright would only deny much-needed resources for research and care,” she said in a news release.
That’s too simple a view. “Cancelling the event outright” would actually be a strong statement from a world-renowned organization, affirming that it will not abet a President who incites exclusion and prejudice, threatens the health of our planet, would take health care away from millions, engages in risky and combative rhetoric in a volatile world, and seems intent on American isolationism in an era of inescapable interdependency. It would be a declaration that even protecting its own self-interest and noble mission is not reason enough for Dana-Farber to remain a bystander to the President’s threats to pull the rug out from under some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.
In the short term, canceling would be costly to Dana-Farber. Some donors would take exception. Reprisals would be possible — President Trump and his legions have shown themselves capable of vindictive language and behaviors remarkable even for Washington. But as C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” It is precisely because such deeds are inconvenient that they are notable and especially important.
Dana-Farber leaders say they want to “stay out of politics.” But this is a time when inaction is every bit as political as action.
The fight to care for, cure, and prevent cancer is as worthy a struggle as a civilized nation can imagine. But the “denial of much-needed resources” is now a threat to many vulnerable people in the world who are far less able to defend themselves than Dana-Farber. “Much needed resources” are headed for the cutting floor in the Trump administration — for the poor in our nation and other nations whose cancers may well go undetected, let alone treated, with diminishing funds; for the chronically ill; for the defenders of environmental sustainability; and for the hungry in low income countries who need our generosity.
Make no mistake, this administration has already shown its disdain for science as the proper basis for decision making, so one can only wonder how that might come back to haunt even Dana-Farber and its wonderful mission.
Here is an idea: if Dana-Farber cancels its event, all good-willed donors should double their contribution this year out of respect for the cancer center’s courage. After that, if the Trump administration were to lift a finger to punish Dana-Farber for its courage, let the nation ring with outrage in solidarity that anyone in Washington, not just the President, would dare to impede the path-finding work of such a treasured American institution.
Donald M. Berwick, MD, is the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Editor’s note: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute declined STAT’s invitation to submit a First Opinion explaining why it plans to move forward with its annual fundraiser at the Mar-a-Lago resort. You can read its prepared statement on the issue here.