Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pete Domenici Has a Diagnosed Brain Disease

Senator Pietro "Pete" Domenici (R-NM) is 74 years old. He has served as a senator since 1973, the longest tenure in New Mexico’s history. Last Thursday, Domenici announced that he's been diagnosed with frontotemporal lobar dementia (sometimes called Pick's Disease for the doctor who first diagnosed it in 1972). It's a fairly rare brain disease. Only 100,000 to 200,000 people in the US have it, as contrasted with the 4.5 million people afflicted with Alzheimer's. There is no cure for frontotemporal lobar dementia. The salient characteristic is that as it progresses—and it can progress very fast--it impairs insight and judgment, something patients themselves cannot recognize. What made Domenici seek a medical opinion? We don’t know. How long has Domenici been afflicted with a brain disease? We don’t know. The New York Times reported this morning that Domenici’s spokeswoman, Courtney M. Sanders, said: “He’s had the condition, been aware of it, for some time. I can’t say precisely how long.” Nor would Ms. Sanders say what led to the diagnosis, what symptoms the senator had or what indicated that the disease had progressed. Domenici wants to serve out his term. It ends in January, 2009. I love this bit from the NYT news story: “Ms Saunders said that Mr. Domenici had regular examinations by a doctor at Johns Hopkins, and that a checkup in April detected no signs of progression. At that point, he was planning to run for re-election, but changed his mind after the examination in September.” Oh great! Domenici has been getting regular examinations at Johns Hopkins to monitor his brain disease for God knows how long. Six months ago, there was no sign of progression. But in September there obviously was progression because Domenici suddenly let us in on his secret. The man has a degenerative brain disease that is progressing. The tip-off that this disease is spiraling downward is impaired judgment which patients can’t recognize themselves. So someone had to tell Domenici that his brain disease is progressing. But nevermind that. Domenici wants to soldier on through January 2009. Dr. Jason Karlawish, an associate professor of medicine and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania has weighed in on this news story, He says, “Just because he (Domenici) has a diagnosis doesn’t mean he’s not capable of doing his job.” But Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and a leading expert on frontotemporal dementia, called it “a very tough disease,” and said it could progress rapidly, twice as fast as Alzheimer’s...In a study we did, the average person, from the time of diagnosis, lived only about three and a half years." Neither doctor is Domenici's doctor. In 2006, Domenici pressured New Mexico’s United States Attorney David Iglesias to speed up indictments of Democrats in federal corruption investigations. When Iglesias said there would be no indictments handed down, Domenici said (and subsequently admitted he said it), “I’m very sorry to hear that” and within a month Iglesias was fired by the Bush administration. Was that due to Domenici’s mental impairment, or just normal Domenici behavior? We don’t know. And obviously, mental disease and psychiatric disorders in the Republican Party have not kept people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others too numerous to name from holding public office. But Pete Domenici has made a public announcement that he has a diagnosed brain disease that will impair (and maybe already has impaired) his judgment. Pete Domenici must resign NOW.


Barry Schwartz said...

The corruption was probably just 'normal' Domenici, and even with advanced dementia he'll have better judgment than James Inhofe (who has better judgment than the nearly dead Strom Thurmond had). Inhofe surely does not realize how stupid and unwise he is. Anyway Domenici's just a senator, not the President of the United States or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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