Category Archives: medical news

Stop talking about rape … period!

Another politician has stepped in it yet again over the issue of rape.

When will these clowns get the message that there can be nothing good or redeeming about a savage sexual attack?

The latest addition to the pantheon of schmucks who’ve entered the rape discussion is West Virginia Republican House Delegate Brian Kurcaba who said that while rape is “awful,” something good can come from it if the produces a baby.


Kurcaba wants the state legislature to enact a law that bans abortion after the 20-week gestation period of a pregnancy. Of course, he doesn’t want any exceptions granted for the victims of rape.

He now joins the likes of former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, who proclaimed that victims of “legitimate rape” have ways of “shutting down” a pregnancy; and the we have Richard Mourdock of Indiana who said while running for the U.S. Senate that a child born from a rape is a “gift from God.”

Both of those fellows lost their campaigns for the Senate. Imagine that.

Now we have Brian Kurcaba stepping into the fray.

Here’s a political tip, young man: Don’t seek higher office.


Americans love freedom, but …

A growing battle over mandatory vaccinations for public school children is turning into a culture war of sorts.

Libertarian-leaning Republicans suggest that requiring vaccinations against communicable diseases impinges on parental rights to choose whether their children should be vaccinated. The main medical enemy is measles.

Have those who contend the issue is choice actually considered some of the consequences of their request for greater latitude on this matter?

The Washington Post editorial takes aim at U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., for their irresponsible comments regarding vaccinations.

They both should know better than to mutter what they’ve said about the subject.

Especially, Dr. Paul, an ophthalmologist by training. As a medical doctor, he ought to be acutely sensitive to the value of vaccines as guardians of the public health. But he isn’t. He’s instead a politician pandering to one of the bases of his party in his budding quest to win the Republican Party nomination for president of the United States in 2016.

As the Post opined: “Both the governor and senator seem to be suggesting that it is fine for parents to avoid vaccinations for their children. But is this really a matter of individual rights? Liberty does not confer the right to endanger others — whether at a school or Disneyland or anywhere else.”

Measles cases are on the increase, endangering children and those who come in contact with them. Protecting the public health ought to be one of those areas where government involvement shouldn’t be challenged.

Sadly, it is being challenged by politicians who should know better.


Now it's vaccines that divide the parties


It’s official. There is no limit at all to the categories of issues that divide Republicans and Democrats.

The issue today is childhood vaccines. Yep. Believe it. Republicans are now raising the issue of whether parents deserve some choice in whether their to vaccinate their children against diseases deemed infectious and a hazard to public health.

At no time rearing our two now-grown sons did my wife and I ever — not a single time — wonder whether we should forgo a mandatory childhood vaccine in order to, say, enroll our boys in public school. Yes, the issue has percolated for decades, but in our household we never got all hot and bothered over whether the school system where our kids would enroll required such vaccines.

But here we go. A presidential campaign is just around the corner and one of the potential GOP candidates, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is making an issue of the vaccines.

Likely Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton posted a tweet that lays it out clearly: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and . Let’s protect all our kids.”

Goodness, gracious. The vaccines protect our children against some serious infectious diseases. You’ve heard of how measles can cause blindness; chicken pox produces lifelong cells that lead to shingles later in life; mumps, pertussis and all manner of fevers can be fatal.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Republican thinking of running for president, walked back a statement in which he said parents should have the choice.

The vaccine issue flares up from time to time — kind of like a toddler’s fever. How about icing this one down and recognize the value that mandatory vaccines bring in protecting our children and inoculating the public against these serious diseases?


Brain injuries deserve attention, too

It’s fascinating to me to watch the media get all exercised and worked up over deflated footballs and whether one of the Super Bowl teams cheated its way into the big game.

Meantime, another actual crisis is festering and no one talks publicly about with the same fervor we’ve heard in recent days about “Deflate-gate.”

I’m talking about traumatic brain injuries. Concussions. Football-induced dementia.

I want to mention it because Frontline, the acclaimed PBS documentary series, recently rebroadcast its special on this matter. It has gotten next to zero attention, as sports media — and even mainstream news talk shows — have fixated on whether the New England Patriots purposely deflated footballs in their AFC championship rout over the Indianapolis Colts.

“League of Denial” chronicles what some have said has been the National Football League’s complicity in some of the brain injuries players have suffered. Indeed, some current and former NFL stars — former quarterback Brett Favre comes to mind — have declared they won’t let their sons play football for as long as they can control their sons’ activities. Why? The sport is too dangerous, they say.

The Frontline special can be watched online. It’s worth seeing over and over.

Perhaps it will awaken us to a real scandal about the health and welfare of professional athletes who take a beating that no human body can withstand.

Deflated footballs? I couldn’t possibly care less.


Abortion bill: a non-starter

Let’s just put this one on ice: Abortion is not going to be one of those issues where the White House and Congress are going to compromise.

President Obama will veto House Resolution 36 if it ever gets to his desk.

Let’s hope it doesn’t get there.

The bill, cobbled together by Republicans who themselves are split on this issue, would prohibit abortions 20 weeks after fertilization.

Yep. That’s it.

Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a woman has a constitutional right to choose whether to end a pregnancy. Or that most Americans favor granting women the opportunity to decide such matters. Thus, abortion remains legal. The rate of abortion also happens to be declining.

None of that matters. Republicans who control Congress say two things: They oppose government “interference” but they demand that government interfere in this most personal and intensely emotional decision possible.

The National Journal reports: “Republicans themselves are divided on the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. At last week’s GOP retreat, Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., called on House leadership not to bring up the bill this week, saying that the caucus needs ‘to be smart about how we’re moving forward.'”

It’s not smart to approve a bill they know will get a veto and which will not be overridden. It’s also not smart to tell a woman that she must take a pregnancy to full term. That is her call to make — exclusively.




Start shouting for Alzheimer's research

T.R. Reid, writing in the January-February AARP Bulletin, puts it succinctly and powerfully.

Alzheimer’s disease is “the most expensive disease in America” and it is “devouring federal and state health care budgets, and depleting the life savings of million of victims and their families.”

So, what are the federal and state governments doing about it? What kind of public resources are they committing to fighting this dangerous killer?

Too damn little, according to Reid.

He’s correct. That must change.

Reid, a former reporter for the Washington Post, notes that the “cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias has surpassed the cost of treatment for cancer patients or victims of heart disease.” Alzhiemer’s disease, says Huntington Potter, a University of Colorado neurobiologist, is “going to bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid.”

Let’s get busy, folks.

Alzheimer’s disease afflicts 5.2 million Americans — at the moment. The number is going to increase as the nation’s population continues to age. One projection puts the number of Americans suffering from the disease by 2050 at 13.8 million.

How has Alzheimer’s research funding stacked up to other deadly diseases? Reid writes the federal government has committed $5.4 billion on cancer research, $1.2 billion on heart disease and $3 billion on HIV/AIDS research. Alzheimer’s disease research will get $566 million.

My own interest in this disease is intensely personal. My mother died of complications of Alzheimer’s in 1984. She was 61 years of age when she died. Sixty-one! She’d exhibited symptoms for perhaps a decade.

The pain of watching a loved one lose their memory, their cognitive skill, their ability to take care of basic needs is beyond description. Take my word for it.

And that pain is going to spread as more Americans fall victim to this merciless killer.

Federal government estimates put the cost of Alzheimer’s care at about $214 billion annually. Medicare and Medicaid pay about $150 billion per year; the rest of the cost falls on patients and their families, according to Reid.

Why hasn’t there been an outcry for federal funding of this disease as there have been for cancer or HIV/AIDS? Part of it is stigma, Reid reports. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, “I think the problem is that there’s still a stigma attached to Alzheimer’s and other dementias. People don’t want to talk about it. By contrast, LGBT groups have no qualms about campaigning for HIV/AIDS research. The cancer advocacy groups are extremely well-organized, vocal and politically skillful, with their Race for the Cure and everyone wearing pink for a month.”

I’ve made it my mission with this blog to call attention whenever possible to the need to boost attention to this disease. Its impact doesn’t just affect those who afflicted with it. It causes severe pain and anguish on care-givers and other loved ones.

The good news — if you want to call it such — is that some notable celebrities are beginning to put the word out there. One of them is Seth Rogen, the comic actor known most recently for his role in the controversial film “The Interview.”

“Americans whisper the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ because their government whispers the word ‘Alzheimers,'” Rogen told a Senate committee hearing in 2014. Rogen’s own interest has been fueled by his mother-in-law’s struggle with the disease. “It needs to be yelled and screamed to the point that it finally gets the attending and the funding it deserves.”

Well, young man, I’m with you. I’ll yell and scream for as long as it takes.


VA whistleblowers deserve national honor

An editorial in the Arizona Republic honors the men and women who blew the lid off the Department of Veterans Affairs shabby health care policies in Phoenix.

They have been named Arizonans of the Year.

For my money, they ought to be named Americans of the Year.

What did they do to merit national acclaim? Oh, they merely revealed to the nation that veterans were dying because hospital administrators were fabricating wait times that vets were enduring as they sought medical care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. As many as 40 them died while waiting for that care.

The news of this scandalous treatment exploded across the country.

Yes, news of this hideous treatment cost an honorable man his job. Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general and Vietnam War combat veteran, lost all credibility through his inability to fix the problems that developed on his watch.

As the Arizona Republic editorial noted: “Without the courage of whistle-blowers like (Sam) Foote and (Katherine) Mitchell, the American public would still be under the wholesale delusion that the VA hospital system is run well. We would still believe — erroneously— that the often-troubled VA had turned the corner on providing prompt, quality patient care.”

The impact of this scandal has reached across the country and throughout the enormous VA health care network. The Thomas Creek Veterans Medical Center in Amarillo was not immune from heightened scrutiny as officials sought to ensure that veterans did not fall through the cracks as they had done in Phoenix.

Hey, I’ve got some skin in this game as a veteran who signed up a little more than a year ago with the Amarillo VA system. So I am quite grateful for the attention brought to this disastrous problem by Drs. Foote and Mitchell.

The honor “Arizonans of the Year” somehow doesn’t seem quite fitting enough.


Is the 'pop doc' a quack?

Dr. Mehmet Oz professes to have miracle cures for all kinds of maladies.

He’s got his followers. His syndicated TV talk show is a huge hit. He’s become something of a pop culture icon, depending on whose opinion you’re seeking.

Oz is just the latest in a long — and growing — line of popular culture experts. Remember the late Joyce Brothers? How about Phil McGraw? They’re two psychologists who’ve become part of the pop culture scene.

Now it’s Dr. Oz.

Of the names I’ve just mentioned, Oz’s credibility has been taken into serious account by the British Medical Journal.

The journal contends that at least half of Oz’s diagnoses and cures are baseless and lack any foundation. According to the Washington Post: “Recommendations made on medical talk shows often lack adequate information on specific benefits or the magnitude of the effects of these benefits,” the (British Medical Journal) article said “… The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.”

OK, let’s not call Dr. Oz a quack. But his naturopathic approach to curing ailments has been questioned seriously by a leading medical journal.

The journal “selected 40 episodes from last year, identifying 479 separate medical recommendations. After paging through the relevant medical research, they found evidence only supported 46 percent of his recommendations, contradicted 15 percent and wasn’t available for 39 percent.” the Post reported.

Is it fair to ask whether TV talk-show doctors, such as Oz, prey on people’s gullibility? Is it fair also to wonder, as the British Medical Journal has done, whether “marketability” is the driver in promoting these cures, that an ability to sell these notions to the public takes precedence over actual scientific and medical fact?

This isn’t the first time Oz’s claims have been questioned. A Senate panel grilled him thoroughly earlier this year over some of the “miracle” cures he has pushed on his TV show.

I guess it’s the term “miracle” that has some folks — including yours truly — scratching their heads over just what this popular TV star is promoting.

In all my years on this Earth, I’ve never heard a physician who uses that term to describe the effectiveness of a treatment.


Statewide smoking ban: Round 5

Let’s hope that the fifth time is the charm.

For what? The state ought to impose a statewide ban on indoor smoking. No exceptions, please. Everywhere should fall under the rule.

The Texas Tribune reports that the Texas Legislature is likely to take up the issue for the fifth consecutive session when it convenes in January.

The odds aren’t great that it’ll pass either legislative house. Both chambers will be full of pro-business Republicans who think the government has no say in determining whether Texans should be exposed to second-hand smoke. That’s a business call, they’ll contend.

Never mind that the Texas Restaurant Association — a key business group affected directly by such a law — supports a statewide ban.

We’ve danced to this tune already in Amarillo. Voters here have rejected narrowly two city referenda calling for a citywide ban.

The state, though, can weigh in this coming year.

It’s not that Texas is plowing new ground. Two dozen states already have enacted statewide smoking bans. More than 30 Texas cities have enacted such a ban, many with exceptions made for restaurants and businesses that serve alcohol.

Yes, there will be those who contend that business owners should be allowed to make these decisions for themselves.

But if second-hand smoke presents a health hazard and if some businesses refuse to ban smoking inside their establishments, isn’t the state obligated to step in protect people’s health?

Yes, we have choices. We can choose to do business in a place where we cough at the smell of smoke, or we can choose to go somewhere else.

Still, a statewide ban isn’t an unreasonable rule to impose on business owners. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all get used to living in a totally smoke-free indoor environment.

I’m not going to hold my breath — pun intended — waiting for the Legislature to do the right thing.


Senate approves surgeon general … finally!

For the first time in I don’t know how long, the United States has a top doctor.

He is Vivek Murthy, who today was approved by the U.S. Senate to become the nation’s next surgeon general.

Despite his sparkling medical credentials and the work he has done to combat HIV/AIDS, senators had held up his nomination because he has spoken out against gun violence, calling it a public health issue.

Imagine that. A physician wanting to control gun violence because bullets injure and kill people.

His confirmation vote today was 51-43, with Republicans overwhelmingly opposing him because he is no friend of gun-rights advocates. Some Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in opposing Dr. Murthy.

One of them was Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who issued a statement opposing the doctor because, according to Manchin, his political views muddled his medical policy. I understand why Manchin joined other senators in opposing Murthy. It’s because he’s scared of gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association and the potent political power they possess.

That doesn’t make it right.

Vivek Murthy is perfectly qualified to serve as surgeon general. His views on gun control are well-known, but they do not infringe on his ability to help set medical policy or recommend measures to promote good health on behalf of the Obama administration.

Indeed, had their been a surgeon general on board during the recent Ebola mini-scare, there might not have been a need for the president to appoint an “Ebola czar” to coordinate the administration’s response to the disease’s arrival in the United States.

OK, so that task is done. We have a surgeon general. It’s good to know that at least 51 senators had the guts to vote in favor of hiring a chief medical officer to advise the nation on how to take better care of its health.