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Lifetime’s Mastectomy Petition – More Surface Than Substance?

Whenever I see a beautifully crafted dessert, I am always hopeful it will taste as good as it looks. More often than not though, I am disappointed by the incongruity between the attractive exterior and inferior interior. This is precisely how I feel about Lifetime Networks’ sugar-coated online petition for an end to “drive-through mastectomy,” a 20-million-signature-strong petition that had actress Marcia Cross (of Desperate Housewives) lobbying Capital Hill last Wednesday.

Whenever I see a beautifully crafted dessert, I am always hopeful it will taste as good as it looks. More often than not though, I am disappointed by the incongruity between the attractive exterior and inferior interior. This is precisely how I feel about Lifetime Networks’ sugar-coated online petition for an end to “drive-through mastectomy,” a 20-million-signature-strong petition that had actress Marcia Cross (of Desperate Housewives) lobbying Capital Hill last Wednesday.

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Digging In
On the surface of it all, you have Lifetime Networks, a powerful brand, using its celebrity to make people aware of an issue. But delving deeper into the syrupy goodness of this feel-good confection may leave you wanting.

Let’s start with the 20 million digital signatures that were presented to elected officials. I am no statistician but doesn’t that number strike you as being incredibly high? After all, the entire US population is roughly 301 million, so Lifetime is essentially claiming that about 1 in 15 Americans signed the petition and therefore support the Breast Cancer Protection Act 2007.

According to Dan Suratt, executive vice president of digital media and business development of Lifetime Networks, the signatures have been aggregating since for eleven years now and Lifetime never combed through the data before burning it in onto a CD-ROM for the press conference. It is likely the 20 million signatures could include duplicate entries and spam. After all, people who truly believe in passing this bill could easily add their names to the petition multiple times. Also, since the petition page doesn’t feature any security measures to guard against spam bots, who knows how many of those petitions were legitimate. I am by no means undermining the desire for change as expressed in this petition, I just don’t think a suspect number of signatures adds to the credibility of the cause.

Even in states where similar protections against drive-through mastectomy have become law, according to Lifetime’s own website, horror stories can still happen. Doris, who hails from Virginia, a state that has legally banned the practice, recounts her ordeal on MyLifetime.com: “I was sent home a couple of hours after my mastectomy surgery, with drainage tubes. It was a miserable experience.” This begs a number of questions. How will passing this act have any tangible effects on protecting patients from drive-through mastectomies, when similar state laws have failed to prevent this very practice from continuing? What mechanisms will be in place to punish those companies who flaunt the law? Will those who depend on Medicaid and Medicare for coverage be similarly protected? Nowhere in Lifetime’s campaign are these questions being posed.

If Lifetime is truly interested in “using the power of the media to make a positive difference in women’s lives,” as it states on its website, then it should have taken a page from the post-mortem on passing the Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act — commonly known as “drive-through deliveries.” In “What Lessons Should We Learn From Drive-Through Deliveries” published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, David A. Hyman cautions: “…although sound bites are helpful in making the case for a policy change, they have a distinct tendency to crowd out the issue they were intended to dramatize. Once the problem was framed as ‘drive-through deliveries,’ the real issues at stake never made it onto the policy agenda.”

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This definitely rings true for the Lifetime’s gung-ho crusade to end drive-through mastectomy. After all, the problem with drive-through mastectomy isn’t only that women are involuntarily and prematurely released from hospital. It is a symptom of an ailing healthcare system where insurance companies, not patients and their physicians, are dictating the quality of care. But you’d be hard pressed to know this from the cause’s catchy name or Lifetime’s glamorous packaging.

As it stands right now, this latest effort to end drive-through mastectomy is, like most of my dessert disappointments, all fluff and no substance.

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