By: Richard Nixon
Date: December 23, 1971
Source: The National Cancer Act of 1971. U.S. Public Law 92–218. 97th Cong. 1st sess., December 23, 1971. Reprinted in United States Statutes at Large. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972.
About the Author: Richard Milhous Nixon (1913–1994) was born in Yorba Linda, California, and received a law degree in 1937 from Duke University. In 1946, he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1952 he joined Dwight D. Eisenhower as candidate for vice president. He won the 1968 presidential election, but on August 8, 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, he became the only U.S. president to resign.
The development and widespread use of vaccines and antibiotics during the twentieth century greatly reduced the number of deaths from infectious diseases so that by the 1950s, heart disease and cancer were the leading killers of Americans. U.S. deaths from cancer grew steadily from 1900 to 1976, nearly quadrupling during these years. Modern medicine had done nothing to blunt this increase, noted a 1955 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.
The alarm over cancer grew in 1964 when the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare released the surgeon general's report on smoking. The report amassed evidence from animal experiments, autopsies of bodies of those who had smoked, and comparison of death rates for smokers and nonsmokers. All evidence pointed to smoking as a cause of lung cancer, cancer of the larynx, cancer of the esophagus, and oral cancer. The report strengthened fears that cancer was ubiquitous and that smokers were living under a death sentence. Cancer also struck nonsmokers and those who had been careful about their diet and exercised regularly. Worse, by the 1950s leukemia had become the leading killer of American children. No one was immune from cancer.
Cancer inspired fright because of its remorseless progression. Too often it struck Americans in their prime, sapping them of their physical and mental powers. The disease wasted away victims, sinking them deeper into an abyss of pain. Medical treatment might slow cancer's progression, buying victims time, but in the end they died in agony. Americans during the 1970s viewed a diagnosis of cancer as a death sentence.
Richard M. Nixon inherited this crisis as president. His predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, had elevated medical care and health to national issues. Under his leadership, Congress passed a flurry of legislation to extend medical benefits, school lunches, and much else to millions of Americans.
Richard Nixon, following a president who actively pressed health care legislation, also sought to better American health care. In 1971, he pledged to devote the federal government to finding a cure for cancer, a bold initiative that rivaled Johnson's proposals. Congress, acting on Nixon's promise, passed the National Cancer Act on December 23.
The act acknowledged cancer as a leading cause of death in the United States but tempered this pessimism by stating that medical and scientific research had the potential to prevent and treat cancer. The act authorized the National Institutes of Health to direct federal research into the causes and treatment of cancer and created fifteen federal research centers to combat cancer by discovering the most effective treatments.
The act followed the example of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which, since the nineteenth-century, had established research outposts throughout the United States to breed disease-resistant crops and the like. The result was the world's most abundant food supply. The National Cancer Act applied this model of decentralized federal research to fight cancer.
The act raised expectations of a cure during the 1970s, expectations that were premature. Cancer was not a single disease, as some Americans assumed, but a complex of diseases of unknown origin. Physicians and scientistswondered whether bacteria or viruses could cause some cancers. (The answer now appears to be yes.) In other instances heredity and lifestyle predisposed one to cancer. Such a complex of factors meant that medicine would need to track down cures to one cancer at a time. Medicine would need decades, not years, to advance knowledge of the causes and treatment of cancer.
Primary Source: The National Cancer Act of 1971 [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: The National Cancer Act authorized the National Institutes of Health to direct federal research into the causes and treatment of cancer and created fifteen federal research centers to combat cancer by discovering the most effective treatments of it.
An act to amend the Public Health Service Act so as to strengthen the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health in order more effectively to carry out the national effort against cancer.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 1. This Act may be cited as "The National Cancer Act of 1971."
Findings and Declaration of Purpose
Sec. 2. (a) The Congress finds and declares
- that the incidence of cancer is increasing and cancer is the disease which is the major health concern of Americans today;
- that new scientific leads, if comprehensively and energetically exploited, may significantly advance the time when more adequate preventive and therapeutic capabilities are available to cope with cancer;
- that cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States;
- that the present state of our understanding of cancer is a consequence of broad advances across the full scope of the biomedical sciences;
- that a great opportunity is offered as a result of recent advances in the knowledge of this dread disease to conduct energetically a national program against cancer;
- that in order to provide for the most effective attack on cancer it is important to use all of the biomedical resources of the National Institutes of Health; and
- that the programs of the research institutes which comprise the National Institutes of Health have made it possible to bring into being the most productive scientific community centered upon health and disease that the world has ever known.
(b) It is the purpose of this Act to enlarge the authorities of the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health in order to advance the national effort against cancer.
National Cancer Program
Sec. 3. (a) Part A of title IV of the Public Health Service Act is amended by adding after section 406 the following new sections: …
Sec. 407. (a) The Director of the National Cancer Institute shall coordinate all of the activities of the National Institutes of Health relating to cancer with the National Cancer Program.
(b) In carrying out the National Cancer Program, the Director of the National Cancer Institute shall:
- With the advice of the National Cancer Advisory Board, plan and develop an expanded, intensified, and coordinated cancer research program encompassing the programs of the National Cancer Institute, related programs of the other research institutes, and other Federal and non-Federal programs.
- Expeditiously utilize existing research facilities and personnel of the National Institutes of Health for accelerated exploration of opportunities in areas of special promise.
- Encourage and coordinate cancer research by industrial concerns where such concerns evidence a particular capability for such research.
- Collect, analyze, and disseminate all data useful in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, including the establishment of an international cancer research data bank to collect, catalog, store, and disseminate insofar as feasible the results of cancer research undertaken in any country for the use of any person involved in cancer research in any country.
- Establish or support the large-scale production or distribution of specialized biological materials and other therapeutic substances for research and set standards of safety and care for persons using such materials.
- Support research in the cancer field outside the United States by highly qualified foreign nationals which research can be expected to inure to the benefit of the American people; support collaborative research involving American and foreign participants; and support the training of American scientists abroad and foreign scientists in the United States.
- Support appropriate manpower programs of training in fundamental sciences and clinical disciplines to provide an expanded and continuing manpower base from which to select investigators, physicians, and allied health professions personnel, for participation in clinical and basic research and treatment programs relating to cancer, including where appropriate the use of training stipends, fellowships, and career awards.
- Call special meetings of the National Cancer Advisory Board at such times and in such places as the Director deems necessary in order to consult with, obtain advice from, or to secure the approval of projects, programs, or other actions to be undertaken without delay in order to gain maximum benefit from a new scientific or technical finding.
- (A) Prepare and submit, directly to the President for review and transmittal to Congress, an annual budget estimate for the National Cancer Program, after reasonable opportunity for comment (but without change) by the Secretary, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Advisory Board; and (B) receive from the President and the Office of Management and Budget directly all funds appropriated by Congress for obligation and expenditure by the National Cancer Institute.
(c) (1) There is established the President's Cancer Panel (hereinafter in this section referred to as the 'Panel') which shall be composed of three persons appointed by the President, who by virtue of their training, experience, and background are exceptionally qualified to appraise the National Cancer Program. At least two of the members of the Panel shall be distinguished scientists or physicians.
(2) (A) Members of the Panel shall be appointed for three-year terms, except that (i) in the case of two of the members first appointed, one shall be appointed for a term of one year and one shall be appointed for a term of two years, as designated by the President at the time of appointment, and (ii) any member appointed to fill a vacancy occurring prior to the expiration of the term for which his predecessor was appointed shall be appointed only for the remainder of such term.
(B) The President shall designate one of the members to serve as Chairman for a term of one year.
(C) Members of the Panel shall each be entitled to receive the daily equivalent of the annual rate of basic pay in effect for grade GS-18 of the General Schedule for each day (including traveltime) during which they are engaged in the actual performance of duties vested in the Panel, and shall be allowed travel expenses (including a per diem allowance) under section 5703(b) of title 5, United States Code.
(3) The Panel shall meet at the call of the Chairman, but not less often than twelve times a year. A transcript shall be kept of the proceedings of each meeting of the Panel, and the Chairman shall make such transcript available to the public.
(4) The Panel shall monitor the development and execution of the National Cancer Program under this section, and shall report directly to the President. Any delays or blockages in rapid execution of the Program shall immediately be brought to the attention of the President. The Panel shall submit to the President periodic progress reports on the Program and annually an evaluation of the efficacy of the Program and suggestions for improvements, and shall submit such other reports as the President shall direct. At the request of the President, it shall submit for his consideration a list of names of persons for consideration for appointment as Director of the National Cancer Institute.
National Cancer Research and Demonstration Centers
Sec. 408. (a) The Director of the National Cancer Institute is authorized to provide for the establishment of fifteen new centers for clinical research, training, and demonstration of advanced diagnostic and treatment methods relating to cancer. Such centers may be supported under subsection (b) or under any other applicable provision of law.
(b) The Director of the National Cancer Institute, under policies established by the Director of the National Institutes of Health and after consultation with the National Cancer Advisory Board, is authorized to enter into cooperative agreements with public or private nonprofit agencies or institutions to pay all or part of the cost of planning, establishing, or strengthening, and providing basic operating support for existing or new centers (including, but not limited to, centers established under subsection (a)) for clinical research, training, and demonstration of advanced diagnostic and treatment methods relating to cancer. Federal payments under this subsection in support of such cooperative agreements may be used for (1) construction (notwithstanding any limitation under section 405), (2) staffing and other basic operating costs, including such patient care costs as are required for research, (3) training (including training for allied health professions personnel), and (4) demonstration purposes; but support under this subsection (other than support for construction) shall not exceed $5,000,000 per year per center. Support of a center under this section may be for a period of not to exceed three years and may be extended by the Director of the National Cancer Institute for additional periods of not more than three years each, after review of the operations of such center by an appropriate scientific review group established by the Director of the National Cancer Institute.
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