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A mammogram in my 40s saved my life

Is screening 1,900 women in their 40s worth saving one life? The recent recommendation for postponing preventive mammograms until age 50 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says no ("Breast Cancer Screening Regimen Challenged," Nov. 17).

This harks back to the days when Ford estimated that the cost of fixing a potentially fatal flaw in the Pinto was not worth the likely cost of a life if there was a failure. When Pintos began catching on fire, Ford found out otherwise.

I truly hope that this recommendation does not have the same outcome. I would have been that one life that the government has decided wasn't worth the additional screens. Diagnosed in my 40s through a mammogram with an aggressive cancer, I would not have known that I was sick until it was likely too late. But I guess that the government thinks that would have been OK.

I'm not sure that the many women who have been diagnosed and treated in their 40s would agree.


Confused Altmire

My blood pressure soared when I read the article "Abortion an Obstacle in House" (Nov. 7). The trigger was the section in which Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, insisted that an endorsement from the Catholic bishops would make him "much more comfortable" about voting for the House bill to overhaul our nation's health insurance system.

Imagine my surprise to learn that the representation of Mr. Altmire's district requires the seal of approval from a religious sect. I was dumbfounded to learn that before Mr. Altmire could conscientiously vote on a matter of Congress, he is required to take the pulse of the Catholic bishops of America. Let me examine my copy of the Constitution and figure out which article covers that line of thinking.

I imagine Mr. Altmire's constituents are thrilled to learn that his vote on whether to help bring health coverage to a small percentage of the 47 million uninsured Americans hinges on the single-minded and single-issue demands of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose members don't have to worry about their own health-care coverage.

It makes perfect sense that a Catholic bishop, who is a member of an organization that pays no taxes, would prefer to leave 47 million Americans uninsured, rather than take the risk that some insurance providers in the system may choose to provide abortion coverage to a very small percentage of participants. (Maybe the Catholic Church would like to voluntarily throw in its fair share of tax money to help our fellow uninsured Americans gain access to affordable health coverage? I doubt it.)

Democrats in McCandless, I believe the above statement of Mr. Altmire not only speaks volumes about the mettle of your elected representative but exposes his confusion about the separation of church and state.


Before insurance

Insurance companies aren't the bad guy here! Did you know that people used to have to pay for their medical bills, 100 percent, themselves? Not possible you say? Yes, that's how it used to be.

Before there was Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs or PPOs, there was no medical insurance, no insurance company. When people saw a doctor or went to the hospital they were expected to pay the bill when they left -- in full. Even back in the early 20th century, as happens now, there were times when folks couldn't afford to pay for their medical bills. It wasn't until 1929 that the first hospital insurance plan came into being at Baylor University hospital in Dallas, Texas, to assist a local school teachers group to arrange a hospital stay by paying for it in advance.

Most people don't realize that insurance companies hold down costs by negotiating the rates in advance of us needing services. They then reimburse the medical bills that are incurred -- to doctors, labs and hospitals. If the medical community held its costs down, then so would the insurance companies. If you take away the insurance company, how will you pay? Can you negotiate your rate? Will you have saved enough? The system is not perfect -- but it could be worse.

Mount Washington

The writer is an employee of Highmark and a student at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

A tax-hike creator

In response to the Nov. 13 letter by Ralph Grabowski ("Jobs Created"): Did he give any thought to the fact that "the jobs that would be created by the public option" would cause a bloated government and cost the taxpayers, who would foot the bill for the newly created jobs? Big government is not an increase in employment; it is an increase in taxes.


Mend immigration

Seventeen-and-a-half percent of Americans are unemployed or working part time though they would like full-time work, worse than in any period since the Great Depression. About 7 million illegal immigrants are employed.

Also, 1.3 million new legal workers are admitted each year, by family preference quotas or work visas. The large majority have no special skills or educational attainment and thus are in direct competition for jobs with those hit hardest by the economic downturn -- those ages 16 to 30 with a high school education or less, 30 to 35 percent of whom are unemployed or underemployed; discouraged, some turn tragically to anti-social habits.

Immigration law could be mended to narrow these labor import channels, while continuing to welcome 200,000 to 300,000 scientists and entrepreneurs yearly who would create jobs.

Illegal immigrants would not come if they could not get work, and those already here might return to their homelands. Sixteen states have mandated electronic verification of work eligibility, which would exclude the illegals and provide more opportunity to our young people. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, is trying to overthrow these laws in the Supreme Court, to satisfy its constituents in the construction and landscaping industries.

Let's hope the Obama administration, in its brief to the court, will side with disadvantaged Americans.


Consider the benefits of DNA identification

As a DNA identification scientist, I was puzzled by U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone's opinion in United States v. Mitchell that DNA "is not an identification science" ("Judge Rules Suspects' DNA Collection Unconstitutional," Nov. 11).

A government laboratory (by law) only analyzes DNA with identification markers that are useless for other purposes, such as finding genetic "traits," "predispositions" or "disease." From these short tandem repeat (STR) marker data, an identification scientist infers a genotype that can be compared with other genotypes to determine an extent of DNA match.

There is no "private information" contained in the identification genotype "that reveals the most intimate details of an individual's genetic condition." Legal scholar David Kaye of Penn State University has written that "the scenarios for the misuse by the government, insurers or employers of the STR-identification profiles in NDIS and other law enforcement databases border on science fiction."

When police run the license number of an arrested vehicle against a database, that check can identify past crimes. When an arrestee's fingerprint is checked against a national database, criminal identifications can be made. And when an arrestee's genotype is compared against a database of genotypes from crime scenes, old crimes can be solved and active criminals revealed.

Who benefits from these DNA identification checks? A study by forensic scientist Ray Wickenheiser estimated that a thorough use of DNA databases would prevent 100,000 stranger rapes against women -- one rape every five minutes. Protecting the public from dangerous criminals is the DNA objective.

And who loses? The career criminal with hidden crimes, now subject to the scrutiny of DNA identification science.

Judge Cercone's opinion will apply to only one man. Perhaps future legal arguments will be informed by the testimony of DNA identification scientists. Their expertise may help overcome misconceptions that could harm the innocent or free the guilty.

CEO, Cybergenetics

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