By Lidiya Angelova
Politics is not a place where you find many people with a science degree. Louise Slaughter, who served as a New York House of Representative from 1987 until her death on March 16, 2018, used her expertise in politics and science to make a real difference in people’s lives.
Born Dorothy Louise McIntosh on August 14, 1929 in Lynch, Kentucky, Louise Slaughter was one of five children - three girls and two boys - in a blacksmithing family. When her younger sister Virginia died from pneumonia, Slaughter’s turned her grief into a desire to learn more about medicine and implement change. She graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and a Master in Science degree in Public Health. Her desire to help solve current community problems led her to volunteer at women’s rights and environmental organisations in New York where she moved with her husband after graduation. Later, she became involved in local politics and eventually became elected as New York’s congressional representative.
Slaughter quickly became recognized for her active involvement as a member of Congress. She used her knowledge to significantly improve the health of women and minorities. One of her greatest achievements was co-sponsoring the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993, which led to the first inclusion of women in clinical research. Up until this point in time, new drugs were only tested using white male participants. The new policies implemented by Slaughter’s bill greatly improved the safety, efficiency, and development of medications targeting diseases affecting women. This also included research into the causes and treatment of breast cancer, another disease that previously only used white male participants in drug trials. To mediate this problem, Slaughter founded the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) and acquired $500 million in funding for breast cancer research.
Slaughter was also very quick to recognize the trajectory of problems affecting the health industry and developed numerous policies to prevent and control these issues. She applied her experience and understanding of microbiology to raise awareness of antibiotic resistance and introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. She insisted on more stringent standards of antibiotic use in farm animals, and improved data collection and communication methods between the farmers and FDA. She was one of the first to realise the potential discriminatory risks of genetic information privacy and disclosure, and after 14 years of persistent efforts, she was able to legalize the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) in 2008. The late Senator Ted Kennedy called GINA the “the first civil rights bill of the new century.” Having ground floor knowledge in science and policy allowed Slaughter to be a driving force behind the Affordable Care Act and helped her work towards the goal of making preventive care accessible to every American.
She continued to work for womens rights and in 1994, together with Senator Joe Biden, co-authored the Violence Against Women Act and Commemoration Act which provided support for the victims of domestic violence. She was particularly proud of this work because it significantly decreased domestic violence and the stigma against it. In 1998, she and Senator Christopher Dodd established the Women's Progress Commemorative Commission, which aims to preserve and update women’s history sites.
Louise Slaughter was a major voice of support for research and development, the need to understand the impact of environmental issues on human health, and demonstrated incredible creativity in designing practical applications for improving medical policies. She may no longer be here to directly speak to Congress, but her legacy remains strong and her many supporters will continue her work. Her achievements show the importance of having people with a strong science background be involved in human health policy. She will be remembered not only as one of the most influential politicians in US history but, as a role model who really cared about the issues she fought for!
About the Author
Lidiya’s curiosity about “how life works” led her to complete a Master’s degree in Biology and a PhD in Microbiology. She worked as a researcher at the National Institute of Health in Rockville, MD, USA and is currently a science communicator and writer. She hopes that one day her innovative ideas will be applied in practice even if she is away from the lab. Lidiya loves to travel and has lived in many countries. She is still looking for a place to settle down with her young daughter. Lidiya is thrilled to be a part of the Scientista bloggers team, and loves being able to connect with wonderful female scientists at all stages of their careers, while writing about science and life.
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