Mother's Day 2013: Komen's "Make Mom Proud" Campaign is Par For the Shady Course

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, the Susan G. Komen Foundation — perhaps the most widely publicized cancer charity in the country — has announced plans to launch a new “Make Mom Proud” campaign with help from WWE. The campaign, which calls for women to support their mothers by educating themselves and their communities, is largely aimed at raising awareness, but also urges women to participate in the many Komen races and events being held throughout the country this weekend and, of course, to donate to the organization. 

But before you pull out your wallet, it’s a good idea to know a little bit about where your money is going and what it might be used for. As we were once again reminded in the wake of the Boston Bombings, there are always people willing to capitalize on the misfortune of others.

To be fair, the Komen Foundation is not quite on the same level as scammers looking to steal credit card numbers. If nothing else, as the most visible organization dedicated to funding breast cancer research, the Komen Foundation has done wonders for public awareness. Over the years, however, some less-than-savory facts about the organization have surfaced that might make you think twice before donating.

Just last year, the charity came under fire for a series of ads touting the benefits of mammograms. “Early detection saves lives” has by this point become a kind of universal mantra, so you might be surprised to learn that the effectiveness of mammograms is highly contested within the medical community. It was, after all, only a few years ago that a government task force recommended waiting until 50 to begin routine breast cancer screenings, and a new study seems to bear those findings out. Critics of the Komen Foundation’s campaign have therefore accused the group of exaggerating the benefits of early screening while ignoring potential risks like false positives and even unnecessary treatment, and urge women to instead consult with their doctors and make decisions based on their personal medical histories. In fact, even women whose lives may have been saved by early screening are skeptical of the Komen Foundation’s “across the board” approach to cancer detection.

Nor is this the only area in which the organization has come in for criticism. These days, it’s hard to go to the store without being overwhelmed by a sea of pink pens and yogurt caps, but are these products an honest attempt to raise money for research or simply a marketing tactic? It depends on the product, but evidence suggests it’s more often than not the latter; companies like Herr’s and Hershey’s, for instance, have caps on the amount of money they are willing to donate, so the fact that you “bought pink” may not translate into actual cash. Visit “Think Before You Pink” for more information.

Then, of course, there was the decision by the Komen Foundation to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of breast cancer screenings for low-income women, due to a Congressional investigation spearheaded by anti-abortion activists. Although the organization later apologized, the entire episode was an unwelcome reminder to many of how little we may actually know about the agendas of the charities we support.

Breast cancer is obviously a serious disease. With a lifetime prevalence of roughly 12%, it is the second most common cancer diagnosed amongst U.S. women, as well as the second most fatal. With statistics like that, it’s sometimes hard to know what you as an individual can do to help, and it’s tempting to go with the easiest option. If you’re planning on making a donation, though, do a bit of research first; there’s no shortage of charities out there, and some of them are doing better work than the Komen Foundation.

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Lily Beaumont

Lily Beaumont graduated from the University of Rochester in 2011 with a B.A. in English, and is currently pursuing a joint M.A. in English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Brandeis University. Her interests include feminism, nineteenth-century literature, and coffee.

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