Local Voices

A Misuse Of Freedom

By Kerry Healey   |   Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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Last week, three iconic American freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press — collided in a nightmare scenario that could well still lead to the loss of American lives.

The self-styled Rev. Terry Jones' irresponsible threat to burn copies of the Quran at his tiny church in Jacksonville, Fla. was withdrawn at the eleventh hour after pleas from General Petraeus and the White House. But Jones’ selfish stunt has inflicted real damage to America's reputation for religious tolerance, and makes achieving peace in Afghanistan even tougher.

Neither should we allow one American to twist our freedoms into a Gordian knot that prevents us from showing America's true values to the world.

America must never be so intimidated by the threat of terrorism that we curtail our fundamental freedoms.  But neither should we allow one American to twist our freedoms into a Gordian knot that prevents us from showing America's true values to the world.

Several things went wrong with the handling of the Jones case.  Let's consider freedom of speech.  Jones certainly has a right to express unpopular views if they are true.  But now it seems that the Quran-burning threat was merely a dangerous publicity-seeking ruse.

When Jones’ false threat spawned violent demonstrations in five countries, it crossed Oliver Wendell Holmes's famous line of falsely shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.  Jones’ speech may not have deserved constitutional protection after all.

Jones also fundamentally misused freedom of religion. 

Freedom from religious persecution is the bedrock on which this nation was founded.  But the exercise of religious freedom comes with a duty that requires each religion to see to their own knitting.  Tolerance is required, not just from the government but from ordinary Americans like Mr. Jones.  He showed none.

The most serious questions in the Jones case are reserved for the media.  Jones has a right to express his views, but no inherent right to be heard by people in Indonesia and Afghanistan.  The media chose to blitz the obscure Jones’ ravings around the world as if he were an American leader or a celebrity spokesperson for religious hatred.

In truth, Jones deserved no attention beyond a footnote in the Jacksonville Times.   Thanks to the media, one bigoted man and his 50 parishioners were allowed to become the face of 300 million Americans to the Muslim world.  The media needs to question whether creating incendiary fodder for talk radio justifies the magnification of an ant like Jones, tarnishing America's reputation and risking our soldier’s lives. 

Freedom of the press exists to preserve democracy, not to entertain us.

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Cancer Patients Protest at Biotech Conference

By Toni Waterman   |   Friday, June 22, 2012
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June 22, 2012

BOSTON — More than 15,000 life science professionals from around the globe have descended on Boston for the BIO International Convention. The annual gathering showcases the latest advancements in science, from drugs to biofuels to cell therapy. And while the inside remained relatively calm, about a dozen demonstrators gathered outside the convention center on June 19. The protesters wanted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to speed up the approval process for an experimental cancer treatment known as T-DM1, which they say can save lives.

Looking for effective treatment

In the fall of 2006, Lorraine Heidke-McCartin, 54, was diagnosed with one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer: HER2-positive. The cancer is less responsive to hormone treatment and has a high recurrence rate.

“Right from the beginning I was a Stage 4 patient because the cancer had gone to my liver,” said McCartin.

Immediately she started undergoing treatment, which for the better part of 4 years, kept her cancer to a minimum. But in the spring of 2010, the medicine that had kept her stable stopped working.

“It started to grow again in the liver and I was now up to about seven tumors in my liver,” said McCartin. The lymph nodes in the area were getting enlarged and cutting off my kidney and my bladder."

So she agreed to participate in a clinical trial at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The experimental drug, called T-DM1, is specifically designed to attack cancer cells in HER2-positive patients.

A change in plans

Just as she was to start treatments, the Food and Drug Administration shut down the program at Dana-Farber. But there were still 13 other locations where trials were still going on. The closest one for McCartin was in Fairfax, Va.

“So we started traveling to Virginia in October and I got approved to be in the program. And we travel every 3 weeks to go to Virginia back and forth,” said McCartin.

McCartin said it was a hassle, and expensive — but within months, her tumors were shrinking.

“And in November of 2011 I was told they couldn’t see anything,” said McCartin.

She said her doctors won’t explicitly tell her that she’s in remission, but they haven’t been able to see any cancer over a year. And McCartin said the medication doesn’t have the same debilitating side effects as other treatments.

The next step: blocked

Still, the FDA has denied the application for accelerated approval from Genentech and ImmunoGen, the two companies that make the drug, and instead has sent the companies back to do more clinical trials.

Geoff MacKay is the chairman of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. He said the FDA has a tough job trying to measure the risk versus the benefit of any drug.

However, he said, “I don’t know why they didn’t approve this and I think that really needs to be questioned. Anything that has the potential to save lives should go through what is called an ‘expedited review process.'"

He said the process should be made as quick as possible without skirting regulations or lowering the bar. Right now, it can take up to 15 years and hundreds of millions of dollars — sometimes billions of dollars — to bring a new drug to market.

McCartin has been staging demonstrations, protesting what she calls the FDA’s slow approval process. During the week of June 18, she and about two dozen other people protested outside of the BIO International Convention at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. She said the FDA is holding up a drug that is saving lives.

“What we’re protesting about or demonstrating about is Stage 4 people who need this drug should be given a chance to try the drug,” said McCartin. “We need something and this might be the drug that works for us.”



The MBTA Arrives ... on Stage

By Michelle Liu   |   Thursday, June 14, 2012
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June 14, 2012

mbta musical
What, the T doesn't make you want to sing and dance? (Courtesy)

BOSTON — Bostonians may curse the many troubles of the MBTA, but they love to hate it. Now there’s a musical that many of us (well, those who ride the MBTA) can relate to — from the Boston sports fans who crowd the T after games, to the tourists trying to make sense of subway maps, to the college students out for a night of partying. Born out of ImprovBoston, “T: An MBTA Musical” has moved to the Club Oberon stage in Cambridge through July 13.

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About the Authors
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

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