Sunday, 16 September 2007

Playing with loaded dice

Consider the contrast between the following news items:

In the New York Times: There is a gene called BRCA1; a woman with a defective copy of this gene has a 60 to 90 percent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, and about 50 percent of getting ovarian cancer (cf. 2 percent for other women). It's possible to test for this gene. One woman discussed in the article, a 33-year-old who tested postive --- some of whose relatives came down with cancer in their thirties --- has just had a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. She is going to have her ovaries removed when she gets to forty.

All over The Sunday Telegraph (and the evening news): "The Royal Australian Navy is paying for women sailors to have breast enlargements for purely cosmetic reasons, at a cost to taxpayers of $10,000 an operation." The women in question were officers, not enlisted, a point not unnoticed in the online comments. There is something of an irony here: on the Navy's current PR vehicle, the fictitious patrol boat HMAS Hammersley, two out of the three officers are women, remarkably good-looking, and unlikely to win a breast-size contest any time soon. The least the Senior Service could do, it seems to me, is to get its story straight in this important matter.

"Are you happy to pay for this surgery with your taxes? Vote in our home page poll", the Telegraph howls. I would suggest as an alternative that $10,000 per episode of Sea Patrol be removed from the budget for fancy helicopter shots, and spent on a decent script doctor. Because at present, this show is making Patrol Boat look better every day.

Back to the New York Times article (which is extensive and very good, by the way): the story does at least have a hero. Cancer girl, while considering her eventual choice of mastectomies followed by reconstructive surgery, consults her boyfriend:
“Does the thought of plastic surgery bother you?” she asked.

A moment passed.

“It would if I thought the person I was with was doing it because they didn’t like the way they looked,” he said. “But that isn’t this situation.”

Good on you, mate.

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