Mourning a Champion of Public Health
The public health community is mourning the loss of a champion: U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter. The Congresswoman, who sadly passed away last night, was one of a kind.
As her colleagues in Congress remember, she was a trailblazer as one of the longest serving members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first woman to chair the powerful House Rules Committee.
She was a microbiologist, the only one in Congress, who brought a deep understanding of the critical importance that our limited supply of antibiotics remain effective—critical for our nation’s health, but also for our economy and national security.
She fought for federal policies based in science, and for public investment in science. She was a tireless advocate for women, securing the first dedicated federal funding for NIH breast cancer research, and co-authoring the landmark Violence Against Women Act. #MeToo, indeed.
She was also real, and spunky, and indefatigable. A ‘force of nature’, some have said. And they would be right.
Apparently, she even was a former blues and jazz singer. I hadn’t known that before today. Honestly, I’m not surprised. It makes me like her all the more.
Since 2000, I have worked with other public health advocates to try and get Congress to try and do something to stem the enormous overuse of antibiotics on U.S. farms. For decades, livestock and poultry producers had been putting huge quantities of human antibiotics into chicken, pig and cattle feed, mostly to promote growth or prevent disease in animals living under stressful, infection-inducing conditions. For just as long, microbiologists have known that overusing antibiotics—whether in people or animals it matters not—is the quickest way to ensure bacteria will develop and spread that are resistant to treatment with those drugs.
From the beginning, Rep. Slaughter was our biggest champion in Congress. As a microbiologist, she knew that feeding antibiotics to animals that aren’t sick to be incredibly unwise and short-sighted. In 2007, she became the lead sponsor of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA, which she then reintroduced five more times in subsequent years.
I’m sorry Louise won’t be around for the day when the leadership of Congress heeds the call to steward these precious antibiotic resources. But no one can deny her role in bringing us closer to that day. All of us who rely on these life-saving drugs—which is nearly every single one of us at some point in our lives—owes her a debt of gratitude.
We honor Louise Slaughter’s life, and offer our sympathies to her family. The world would be a better place if we had more of her brave leadership for science, for women and for the environment. She will be greatly missed.