If you read the news, you know that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pancreatic cancer. I am not privy to the details of her illness, but it was apparently amenable to surgery, which gives her a fighting chance, and today, she returned to the Bench. I was going to use her illness to explore the specifics of pancreatic cancer and of cancer screening in general as part of my series on cancer, but some idiot is already using her story for political gain, so my hands are tied.
Senator Jim Bunning (R, KY) issued a god-like pronouncement over the weekend, declaring that:
he supports conservative judges “and that’s going to be in place very shortly because Ruth Bader Ginsburg … has cancer.”
“Bad cancer. The kind that you don’t get better from,” he told a crowd of about 100 at the old State Theater.
“Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live after (being diagnosed) with pancreatic cancer,” he said.
Thanks for playing, asshole. First of all, with Stage I pancreatic cancer, the average 5-year relative survival rate is about 20% (assuming she has an adenocarcinoma rather than a rarer tumor type). Let’s remember that these statistics tell us about aggregate data, not about individuals. A particular patient’s chances are also influenced by many factors, including their overall level of health.
Bunning has the facts wrong (although he’s correct in noting that pancreatic cancer is usually a devastating disease, especially when diagnoses in later stages as is the norm). But then there’s the “asshole factor”. First, a public official making a general pronouncement on the horrific nature of “cancer” is a bad idea—it takes away hope from cancer patients caught in his crossfire.
Second, the tone is one of gleeful stupidity. He’s clearly overjoyed at the prospect of Ginsburg’s mortal coil gettin’ in the ground, but fast.
Of course, he has now issued his obligatory “nopology”:
“I apologize if my comments offended Justice Ginsburg,” Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement released by his office. “That certainly was not my intent. It is great to see her back at the Supreme Court today and I hope she recovers quickly. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.”
Let’s all remember what apology really means. The purpose of an apology is to tell someone that you regret causing them harm. When you say that you are sorry that your comments “offended someone”, you are blaming them for being overly sensitive rather than expressing actual regret (or perhaps, more properly, you regret getting caught). This is one of the most insulting statements one person can make to another. It’s the equivalent of spitting in someone’s face and then wondering aloud why anyone would take offense.
I don’t expect Bunning to issue a real apology, especially after reading the comments from his constituents. It does give me the idea that I probably wouldn’t want to live in Kentucky.