The Precautionary Principle
suggests moving forward with caution when there has been considerable
scientific and other evidence that harm might occur. The unfortunate truth
is that proving future harm can be virtually impossible, due to the
constraints of living in a world of multiple exposures. Measuring
environmental exposures, or effects that occur many years after exposure, is
hard to do until the dead bodies are piled up. Sometimes even then such
exposures are hard to analyze! But plenty of evidence often exists which
suggests strongly that we've got something to worry about.
Obtaining absolute scientific certainty is a virtually impossible task. Thus
we have to consider alternatives when we have evidence of potential harm,
especially when it might be widescale in nature. Everyone knew for 40 years
that smoking could cause lung cancer, but it's only within the past few
years that the absolute proof was obtained. The same is true of the dangers
of leaded gas, leaded paint, and many other hazards that were strongly
implicated as public health risks more than 50 years ago, but which often
lacked that final shred of absolute proof. Proponents of potentially harmful
activities have often used that missing final shred as a way to continue
doing business as usual...with disastrous results. The
studies can contradict one another for years, but a hazard can often be
signaled long before the final proof is in.
The Precautionary Principle asks
that we take action not to stop the wheels of progress, but to use our
foresight to look for the safest way to go forward.
Pure speculation is not a sound foundation for
setting policy. This works both ways, actually: pure speculation should not
be used in deciding to move forward with a new activity, nor should it be
used in deciding to take action to prevent harm. The PP simply suggests
examining all the evidence before making a decision, instead of using a lack
of "absolute proof" to allow dangerous decisions to be made. Right now our
regulations are not as protective of our health as they could be, because of
limits in science and policy, and other pressures on decision-makers. Again
and again it has been shown that safer, cleaner alternatives can benefit
both our health and the environment, and the bottom line of companies.
I agree that education, BSE, regular exams and mammography are important.
Yes! But I DON'T think they're the best precautions. In fact, they're not
even precautions! They don't prevent breast cancer, they just detect it
early. Unfortunately, they WON'T preserve and protect women's breast health;
by the time these tools are useful, it's too late for health - there's
already disease. And exams and mammograms miss some breast cancers. What the
Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition seeks to attain in implementing the
Precautionary Principle - the reason we are behind this initiative 100% -
is to prevent breast cancer from occurring in the first place! With only
5 -10% of breast cancers attributable to purely genetic factors, it's clear
to many researchers that environmental exposures play a significant role.
There is nothing
radical or hysterical about the people working on this project. These are
intelligent, grounded, fair-minded folks. I have had the privilege of
meeting some of the most prominent and brilliant scientists of our time, and
hearing them speak to this issue has convinced me that what I know in my
heart is true. For us to wage a real war on breast cancer, or any cancer, we
must begin at the source or sources. The Precautionary Principle seeks to
protect us not with unfounded speculation or political extremity, but with
reasoned, thorough, honest discussion which takes into account many findings
and concerns currently left out of the loop. Precaution requires both
rigorous and honest science that acknowledges what is known, what is not
known, and what can be known with existing tools. Our current regulatory
process is not as protective as it could be, and is often manipulated by
those who seek to maintain the status quo.
One important element of the PP is involving citizens like you and me in the
decision-making about science and technology, including what we are willing
to be exposed to. Isn't it time someone asked US what risks we're willing to
take, and for what gain?
This project has the potential to
make life a little bit - no! - a LOT safer and a lot fairer, and I want
others to be as clear as possible about its intentions.
Precautionary Principle Project Organizer,
Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition
P.O. Box 524
Northampton, MA 01060
Thanks to panna.org
By Janette D. Sherman, MD
|Remember we are NOT Doctors and have NO medical training.|
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