Dr. Robert Butler, First NIA Director, Strayed from Original Goal

Dr. Robert N. Butler, a psychiatrist who became the first director of the National Institute of Aging (NIA), is dead at 83 of leukemia. Judged by The New York Times or Washington Post obituary page, Dr. Butler was a most accomplished pillar of the medical establishment.  And so he was.  The Washington Post went as far as to crown him the “father of modern gerontology.”  Indeed, Butler seemed like TV’s Dr. Marcus Welby come to life. But there is a darker side.

Dr. Butler is also a case study revealing the limits of Mortalist Medicine, and its subservience to its Death Ideology.  His is a tale of a monumental anti-aging research opportunity missed.  Squandered by the straying from and subversion of the National Institute on Aging’s original goal and mandate:  to tackle head-on, via government-funded research, the cause of so much disease and suffering in human life: the mystery and curse of human biological aging.

What happened?

In 1974, the U.S. Congress, shepherded by Senator Alan Cranston (Democrat, California), passed legislation to create the National Institute on Aging. It was a momentous achievement. Arguably the first piece of immorTalist legislation. By arguably the first ImmorTalist U.S. Senator, albeit somewhat in the closet, the better so he could run for President later.

One bright shining moment. With limitless potential to unravel the mystery of human aging and to cure all of its symptoms (the diseases of aging) — heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and of course Alzheimer’s.

By 2001, when The ImmorTalist Manifesto was first published, the NIA was squandering over 50% of its limited budget on Alzheimer’s Disease. It is as if over half of all AIDS funding had been devoted to one symptom or complication of AIDS. As if instead of trying to unravel the AIDS virus, we obsess about curing one of its myriad symptom like pneumonia.

Butler, a psychiatrist, and the NIA’s first director, had launched it on this course which it continues merrily to this day. By 1997, even Dr. Butler had to admit to the New York Times that the overriding emphasis on Alzheimer’s in NIA research funding was “out of balance.” (p. 175-176, ImmorTalist Manifesto, original trade paperback edition, 2001) It still is.

Why did Dr. Butler push for this disproportionate funding emphasis on one disease of aging? Butler argued that “my perception was that we shouldn’t just focus on aging, because aging was not considered a disease, and was obviously not something that was immediately eradicable.” (NY Times, Mar. 9, 1997)

Butler’s first argument “we shouldn’t just focus on aging, because aging was not considered a disease.” Not considered a disease by the powers that be. He was simply being a pragmatist then. For the NIA to get real funding, he was basically arguing, it cannot tell the U.S. Congress it is going to fund research to cure human aging. Since most of Congress refuse to see Human Biological Aging as a disease. But rather as a natural, Yahweh-ordained curse (erh, state of life) which we must all suffer through.

Aging is NOT a disease is a core belief not merely of Dr. Butler, but also of Mortalist Medicine. This is shown right on the NIA’s own website. In its tribute to Nathan Shock, Ph.D., who built the NIA’s Gerontology Research Center, the NIA website hastens to affirm this dogma under the watchful eyes of the Mortalist powers that be.  The NiA page points out that the venerable Dr. Shock “insisted” that “Aging…was not a disease.”

To buttress this core belief, Dr. Butler also argued that to see Aging as a Disease would encourage Ageism.  But as The ImmorTalist Manifesto asked, “If Butler was worried that declaring Aging a disease might increase Ageism, should we then say AIDS is not a disease to prevent homophobia?” And it answered: “Of course not. Because if AIDS is not a disease, then the government is not compelled to fund AIDS research or programs.”

And it is precisely because aging is not recognized as a disease that no government feels obligated to fund any serious research to eradicate this scourge of the human race since time immemorial.

Butler’s second argument: it is not practical to fund research on aging as aging is “not immediately eradicable.”

But as The ImmorTalist Manifesto pointed out, “if we were to accept this argument, we would not have put any money into cancer research. When the U.S. government started its War Against Cancer in the 1970s, cancer was definitely not ‘immediately eradicable.’…The same could be said for AIDS research.”

“In fact, why bother to do research on any disease? When we start looking at any disease, whether it be polio, measles, smallpox, or Alzheimer’s, it is usually not immediately eradicable.* (p. 177, The ImmorTalist Manifesto)

This is glaringly true of Dr. Butler’s pet disease Alzheimer’s. It is obviously “not immediately eradicable.” We still have no real Alzheimer’s treatment, much less cure. And yet it has not deterred Dr. Butler or the NIA since the 1970s from pouring over half of its research funds into this one not-immediately-eradicable symptom of aging.

Aging is not a disease. It is not only not immediately eradicable, it must not be eradicable. So we cannot, must not spend money researching it. These are two core beliefs of what The ImmorTalist Manifesto calls “Mortalist Medicine. And These two core beliefs of Mortalism and Mortalist Medicine are tackled and rebutted in Chapter 15 of The ImmorTalist Manifesto — entitled ” Mortalist Medicine v. ImmorTalist Medicine.”

So right from the gitgo, the belief system of the Mortalist medical establishment ruthlessly subverted the original goal, mandate, vision of Senator Alan Cranston. Butler, with his Pulitzer-Prize prestige and savvy in bureaucratic manueverings, could have tried to prevent this from happening. But he didn’t. It was not a profile in courage. Could Senator Cranston have fought against this hijacking of the NIA by the Death Society and the degradation of its immortalist goal? Yes, but victory was not assured against the Mortalist Congress. And besides, he couldn’t be unmask as a flaming Immortalist and then run for President, could he?

So there, it is something about Human Biological Aging that is untouchable. It is The Last Taboo. To Dr. Butler and Mortalist Medicine.

This is what The ImmorTalist Manifesto calls the Mortalist Medicine Paradigm. It is not a matter of rhetoric or semantics. It has consequences. Life and Death consequences.

(See Chapter 15 of The ImmorTalist Manifesto for a full discussion of Dr. Butler and the NIA’s deviation from its original mandate)

If the NIA had stuck since 1974 to its original anti-aging ImmorTalist goal, we would not have lost 36 years in life-saving anti-aging research. Which would most probably have led to breakthrough treatments and perhaps cures for cancers, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc diseases of aging. And yes, most probably we would be further ahead in Alzheimer’s research, which has produced no significant breakthrough despite the NIA betting its store on it.

What this would have meant to the countless millions who have died since 1974 of these diseases, and who could have been saved if the NIA had stayed true to its original mission, is incalculable and almost unthinkable. We are not naive enough to blame Dr. Butler solely for all this. He was a top bureaucrat in Mortalist Medicine. But he surely had higher ups to answer to in Congress.

Clueless as The New York Times and The Washington Post may be in their obituaries, it is on this tragic subversion and unforgivable betrayal of the NIA which happened on Dr. Robert N. Butler’s watch and tenure for which he, and the Mortalist Regime, must be judged.

By posterity. By History. But most of all by all those who are suffering and dying from all the Diseases of Aging.  All those and all of us who can’t afford 36 years of lost time.

Elixxir 7/7/2010
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