One Crisis, One Catastrophe


Dear friends,

Recently I have been preoccupied with two disasters, the first dealing with my faith, and the second with my profession.

 As many of you know, I am a Catholic. The abuse scandal in my Church fills me with suffocating anger, sadness and feelings of betrayal, probably shared by most Catholics. At a recent parish meeting, I was tagged to draft a letter to our Cardinal Wuerl of the Washington, D.C., Archdiocese, where I reside.

My faith in Jesus Christ and the Eucharist is unswayed, but my trust in our Church hierarchy and the bishops is in tatters. Writing the letter is my small step, in what I hope will be part of  a  stampede of lay Catholics, demanding truth, justice, and reform. I will post the letter here after it is completed and signed by fellow parishioners.

The other calamity deals with public health. After reading two articles in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), I was once again reminded how profoundly unhealthy is the profit motive that drives health care and research in the U.S.

The first article addressed the relentless childhood obesity epidemic and dearth of definitive investigations. There is inadequate funding for research about how to prevent childhood obesity. This is shocking when you consider the astronomically high costs to individuals and society that result from this epidemic. But efforts to reduce obesity are not profitable to any industry. It seems  there is more profit from obesity than there is from trying to prevent it. For example, the food industry spends millions to develop and promote foods with the perfect blend of carbs and fats that consumers will find irresistible. Their investment is good for their bottom line and very bad for our health. Or, consider the big business that bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery)  has become.

 The second article discusses research about “precision” medicine, targeted gene-based therapy for lung cancer. Tobacco causes close over 80% of lung cancer. Think about this—everyone gains from tobacco except the patients. The tobacco industry profits; the pharmaceutical companies, which  also fund most of the research on their products, profit from selling their drugs; and the health care system profits from all the health care that is required. It is a big business that perpetuates itself. The harm caused by the legal use of tobacco products is staggering. Smoking kills nearly 500,000 Americans each year. It is the cause of one out of five deaths, more than 80% of all lung cancer, and is linked to 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. 

All of this prompted my daughter, Lisa R. Chacko, MD, MPH, and me to submit a letter to JAMA calling for policy makers and health professionals to honestly and creatively find ways to address these two public health crises. Market forces alone have failed, and bold new approaches are needed. 

The evil of the Catholic Church scandal makes my soul shudder. The public health catastrophe affects me more viscerally—I see the vivid images of the many patients with tobacco related cancers that I treated during my twenty years as a radiation oncologist. The two crises are very different, but they share some themes:  pride, desire for power and control, human weakness, greed, and, yes, immorality. Immorality is glaring when it comes to clergy abusing children. But I think that it also applies to a system that prioritizes profit above public health. We can do better


1. If either of these two crises troubles you, do something. Almost anything is better than just  wringing your hands. Pray, learn, talk, protest, write....

2. I like what Catholic convert and author Fulwiler says about the Church scandal. She calls for truth, action, and hope. I encourage you to check out the link.  

3. Rosenthal's book An American Sickness gives a sobering account of how healthcare became big business and what we can do about it.

4.  Inform yourself about the scourge of tobacco. See my May 2017 blog for information. The CDC provides excellent summaries and statistics. The national quit-line is 1 800-QUIT-NOW.

4.  Let us all pray for God’s mercy and help as we stumble around trying to do His will

God bless.



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