If you heard about last month's death of Louise Slaughter, it was probably in relation to her position as a member of the United States House of Representatives (representing New York). But did you know that Slaughter was also a microbiologist? This biology background was reflected in her advocacy for government funding of health research, with particular emphases on ensuring the rights and inclusion of women and minorities, as well as the prevention of genetic discrimination.
Slaughter (née McIntosh) was born in Lynch, Kentucky in 1928. The childhood death of one of her sisters from pneumonia inspired her to study biology, earning a bachelor's degree in microbiology and a master's degree in public health, both from the University of Kentucky.
After graduating, she took a market research position at Procter & Gamble and became increasingly involved in community organizing for causes including women's rights and environmental protection. Seeking to have a stronger voice, she decided to enter the political arena. She started as a member of the Monroe County Legislature, then worked her way up to federal Congress. She was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1982 and to Congress in 1986. She was an important member of the House Rules Committee, serving a term as Chairwoman (the first woman to serve this role) and multiple terms as ranking minority member.
While in Congress, she used her strong scientific background to advocate for federal support of responsible and inclusive science. She helped secure funding for breast cancer research, ensure that women and minorities were included in clinical trials, instigate Title IX compliance reviews of federal scientific agencies, and establish an Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 2000, its ten-year anniversary, the ORWH awarded Slaughter a "Visionary for Women's Health Research" award.
Slaughter also fought persistently for over a decade for passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), finally passed in 2008, to prevent health insurers and employers from using a person's genetic information. Her master's thesis research on antibacterial drug resistance gave her a strong foundation to advance legislation preventing the overuse of antibiotics.
Slaughter never retired - she passed away March 16, 2018 after suffering a fall and concussion. She was 88 at the time of her death - the oldest sitting member of Congress.