Stossel Responds to 'Sicko' Letter

I wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that the Journal titled: Sick Sob Stories. Afterward, a woman cited in the story and in "Sicko," Julie Pierce, responded and her letter was posted on Michael Moore's Web site. Here is my response:

Dear Julie,

I read your reply to my WSJ Op-Ed. Let me respond to you, first, by saying that there is never any justice in the death of a 37-year-old husband and father. I am sorry for your loss.

You accuse me of playing a "game" when I write about health care. This is untrue. I take this debate very seriously, because I believe that Americans suffering from illness should have access to the most advanced procedures, drugs, and treatments that medical technology can provide. I shudder to think of what would be lost if government takes control of health care.

Consider bone marrow transplantation. You write that Canadians "invented the technology," but I don't think this is the case. I count bone marrow transplantation among the countless American medical innovations. The first successful bone marrow transplantation was performed in New York by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas. He went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work.

The data I've found also contradicts your assertion that there are more bone marrow transplants performed in Canada versus the United States. Please tell me where you got that information. The Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research reports that an estimated 16,700 patients received bone marrow transplantations in the United States last year, vs. only 1,520 patients who underwent the procedure in Canada. Per capita, there were 16 percent more transplants performed in the United States.

As to whether the experimental procedure denied to your husband would have been available in Canada, my researchers contacted more than a dozen Canadian governmental organizations, medical societies, and research facilities. Some were firm in saying that it's unlikely that any of these procedures are performed in Canada, citing the "underwhelm[ing]" results of past clinical trials. Dr. Irwin Walker, McMaster University professor and former president of the Canadian Blood and Marrow Transplant Group, did say that his center might consider performing this procedure: "If our centre wanted to transplant [in] one or two cases of kidney cancer there wouldn't be an objection, but if we did a lot then it would have financial impact."

When government is in control, any experimental drug or cutting-edge treatment option will bring with it a "financial impact" on the pool of government funds, and be less likely to be made available. The Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research tracks the activity of most transplant centers across the United States and Canada. In America, their registry shows 106 Americans who received bone marrow transplants for kidney and urinary tract cancers between 2002 and 2006. In Canada, their registry shows only four such procedures over the same period.

Health care in America is a mess, but there's a lot that's great about it too. It's easy to take for granted how rapidly medical technology has progressed over the last half-century, and all the lives that are saved every day which would have been lost only decades ago. If we introduce more choice and competition, American health care will become cheaper, more efficient, and more available to everyone.

You object to my use of the word "sneer," but I did not "accuse" you of "sneering over" your situation. I use the word to convey the anger I saw you express at insurance companies in "Sicko."

I know that when you fight for government health care, you believe that what you are doing is right. While we agree that there is a lot that's wrong with our health care system, we have different ideas about how to fix it.


John Stossel