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Statement About the National Cancer Act of 1971

December 23, 1971

HOPE and comfort, the relief of suffering and the affirmation of life itself-these are qualities which have traditionally been associated with the Christmas season. There could be no more appropriate time than this to sign into law the National Cancer Act of 1971. For this legislation--perhaps more than any legislation I have signed as President of the United States--can mean new hope and comfort in the years ahead for millions of people in this country and around the world.

The enactment of this legislation culminates a yearlong effort to launch an unprecedented attack against cancer. I called for such a program in my State of the Union Message in January 1971, and I expanded on that call in my special message to the Congress concerning health on February 18. Early in May, I submitted to the Congress very specific proposals for a cancer cure program -- proposals which are reflected in all important respects in the legislation I have signed today.

The effort to mobilize a concerted national campaign against cancer has continued to make significant progress since those proposals were submitted. One of the most important steps was the approval by the Congress of the additional $100 million I requested to support an expanded attack on cancer. This additional $100 million, when added to the regular appropriation for this fiscal year, gives the national cancer program a current operating level of $337.5 million, compared to only $ 180 million during the first half of fiscal year 1972. Another important component in our campaign was put in place in October when I announced that the bacteriological warfare research facilities at Fort Detrick, Maryland, would be converted into a leading center for cancer research.

Now this year of preparation for an all-out assault on cancer comes to a climax with the signing of the National Cancer Act. The new organizational structure which this legislation establishes will enable us to mobilize far more effectively both our human and our financial resources in the fight against this dread disease.

I appreciate deeply the months of hard and careful effort which so many Members of the Congress gave to this cause. I am especially pleased that the new national cancer program incorporates the basic recommendations I made last May. It allows the President to appoint the Director of the National Cancer Institute and provides that the budget of the National Cancer Institute be submitted directly to the President. It creates a 3-member President's Cancer Panel to monitor its development and execution on a regular basis and a 23-member National Cancer Advisory Board to offer general guidance. Both of these groups are to be appointed by the President and will report directly to him. The important result of all these provisions is to place the full weight of the Presidency behind the national cancer program. As I recommended in May, the President will be able to take personal command of the Federal effort to conquer cancer so that its activities need not be stymied by the familiar dangers of bureaucracy and red tape.

Having asked for this authority--and this responsibility--I now pledge to exercise it to the fullest. Biomedical research is, of course, a notoriously uncertain enterprise, and its rate of progress cannot be predicted with confidence. But I can say with the greatest confidence that there will be no uncertainty about the Government's role in this effort. I am determined that the Federal will and Federal resources will be committed as effectively as possible to the campaign against cancer and that nothing will be allowed to compromise that commitment.

I make this statement with even greater confidence knowing that Benno C. Schmidt has accepted my invitation to become the first Chairman of the President's Cancer Panel. As chairman of the National Panel of Consultants on the Conquest of Cancer, Mr. Schmidt has played an active role in the development and enactment of the National Cancer Act. He is an effective leader of men and a dedicated community servant. The Nation is fortunate that he will be heading this important panel in its critical first year.

Even as the plans for our national cancer program were being completed in the past few months, other developments have continued to fuel our hopes for further substantial progress in discovering the causes and cures of cancer. Scientists in all parts of the world have continued to contribute important new findings to the growing pool of knowledge about this disease. There continues to be every reason for believing that cancer research, of all of our research endeavors, may be in the best position to benefit from a new application of human and financial resources.

This is the case, however, only because so many men and women have already given so much to the battle against cancer in the past. Their energies and talents and sacrifices have built the foundations on which all future progress must rest.

As we plan for future progress, we should also remember that the expansion of the Federal campaign against cancer in no way diminishes the continuing importance of private and voluntary activities. It is essential, for example, that an organization such as the American Cancer Society--which has raised so much money for this cause and which has done so much to promote research and education in this field--continue to play its full effective role. The new national cancer program must not replace our present efforts to fight cancer; it must supplement them and build on them.

As this year comes to an end, cancer remains one of mankind's deadliest and most elusive enemies. Each year it takes more lives in this country alone than we lost in battle in all of World War II. Its long shadow of fear darkens every corner of the earth. But just as cancer represents a grim threat to men and women and children in all parts of the world, so the launching of our great crusade against cancer should be a cause for new hope among people everywhere.

With the enactment of the National Cancer Act, the major components for our campaign against cancer are in place and ready to move forward. I am particularly happy that the year 1971--at the beginning of which I issued my call for a new campaign against cancer--can end with the signing of this landmark legislation.

Richard Nixon, Statement About the National Cancer Act of 1971 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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