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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Medical professionals can help fight modern-day slavery

Modern-day slavery, or human trafficking, is rampant in the Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and government officials in these countries are doing little to prevent it, according to a just-released U.S. State Department report.
The Trafficking in Persons Report is the most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons. The report evaluates and ranks efforts by 184 governments worldwide to fight sexual exploitation, forced labor and modern-day slavery.
For years I have urged U.S. government officials to more aggressively engage the medical community in the fight against human trafficking. Medical professionals may encounter ailing trafficking victims who are brought in by their captors who are concerned only in restoring the health and therefore profitability of the "merchandise." Yet many healthcare professionals do not know how to recognize the signs of victims or how to report suspected cases of human trafficking.
To increase awareness in the medical community, I have urged U.S. government officials at State, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security to hold a White House summit on health and human trafficking. The summit would serve to encourage top officials from medical specialty organizations to educate their members about recognizing, reporting and treating trafficking victims. In this way, hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals could be educated at no cost to the taxpayer. The best benefit, of course, would be the recognition, rescue and rehabilitation of many more trafficking victims.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New AIDS approach: potential peril amid promise

I recently attended an invitation-only panel discussion at the United Nations in conjunction with the U.N. General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS. The inclusion of the Christian Medical Association in this exclusive meeting speaks to the recognition by the administration of the vital role that faith-based organizations play in treating, counseling and educating AIDS patients and their communities.
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
One of the panelists, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, highlighted the HPTN 052 Study and asserted, 'We are capable now of truly transforming this pandemic as we never have before,' adding, 'A vaccine is attainable for acquisition.'
On the train ride back to Washington, D.C., I queried Dr. Fauci about the challenge of getting AIDS patients to adhere to their medicines. He acknowledged the need, noting, 'We have to do behavioral intervention along with the biological.'
While Dr. Fauci and other panelists voiced very high levels of optimism regarding the impact of the HPTN 052 Study and the prospect of treating many more AIDS patients, some individuals and organizations I contacted who work with AIDS patients in developing countries expressed reservations related to:
Motivation. Treating individuals earlier in the disease stage, while ideally much more effective, also runs into human nature: Those who haven’t experienced the symptoms of the disease may be less motivated and disciplined in treating the disease. And the mistaken idea that 'a pill will fix you if you get it' can actually inhibit the cautious behaviors that help prevent acquiring HIV.
Stigma. In developing countries, both testing and treatment still face significant obstacles related to stigma. In a few African villages, for example, pretty much everyone knows when someone begins treatment, in part because they often have to travel far to get the medicines. That makes individuals think twice before venturing forth for testing or treatment.
Money. Because of funding cutbacks, too many patients who began receiving ARV treatment initiated through the PEPFAR program under the Bush administration now either have lost access to their medicine already or may lose it soon. With the economy not improving quickly, it’s hard to assure that adequate funding will be available to not only bridge the existing gap but also ramp up yet more treatment to reach individuals earlier in the disease stage.
Adherence. As one AIDS expert I corresponded with noted, 'You’re running the risk of dramatically adding to the pool of resistant strains of the virus due to lack of adherence.' Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy and Senior Advisor on Disability Policy at the White House, echoed this concern, warning during the panel discussion of the need to 'take a tough look at how we’re supporting people in adhering to their medicines.'
Mistrust. Both testing and treatment depend upon the acceptance of science, and many individuals in developing countries still do not trust science or scientists. That’s a key area where faith-based organizations can help. A Gallup World Poll of sub-Saharan Africans in 19 countries about their confidence in eight social and political institutions found that religious organizations enjoyed the highest levels of confidence (76 percent). The World Health Organization released a report revealing that between 30 percent and 70 percent (varying by country) of the health infrastructure in Africa is currently owned by faith-based organizations. That report noted that 'efforts are needed to encourage greater collaboration between public health agencies and faith-based organizations (FBOs), if progress is to be made towards the goal of universal access towards HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.'
I came away from the U.N meeting with the sense that while government officials are understandably excited about the potential of earlier treatment, concerted effort needs to be directed toward (a) addressing the current and projected funding deficit, and (b) partnering with proven effective faith-based professionals and organizations in the field that can help address implementation challenges."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sign petition to protect conscience rights for physicians, patients and hospitals

Sign onto a petition to the President and your legislators to protect conscience rights in health care, at the Freedom2Care Legislative Action Center.
Healthcare professionals sign on here.
Patients sign on here.
For more information about conscience rights, visit

Monday, June 13, 2011

Slippery slope of assisted suicide and euthanasia

Below is the full version of my commentary published June 9 in the Washington Times and also on June 11 in National Right to Life News Today:
The news article, "Assisted-suicide advocate Kevorkian dies," (National, Monday) reports that "Right-to-die groups hope the passing of Jack Kevorkian, who assisted in about 130 suicides in the 1990s, will shine the spotlight on the practice they call 'aid in dying.'"
So do assisted suicide and euthanasia opponents, because the more evidence is revealed, the more people recognize the injustice and danger of the deadly practice.
As a recently published medical journal article[1] reveals, despite supposedly airtight legal "safeguards" erected around assisted suicide in the U.S. and Europe and euthanasia in Europe:
·         Patients are being put to death without consent--an estimated 900 annually in the tiny country of The Netherlands, which formally legalized medical killing in 2001.
·         Depressed patients are dying without help: "In 2007, none of the people who died by lethal ingestion in Oregon had been evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist."
·         Doctors are hiding euthanasia from authorities: "… in one jurisdiction, almost 50% of cases of euthanasia are not reported."
·         A requirement for a second, supposedly objective consultation on assisted suicide in Oregon has been filled by one biased suicide-advocate doctor in 58 of 61 consecutive cases.
·         The social slippery slope is expanding euthanasia without limit, now including newborns judged to have  “no hope of a good quality of life,” children aged 12–16 , the non-terminally ill, depressed patients and, if Dutch organized medicine has its way, anyone who is "over the age of 70 and tired of living."
·         Palliative (comfort) care is giving way to cost-efficient medical killing. One Dutch physician explained, “We don’t need palliative medicine; we practice euthanasia.”
Suicide lobbyists often try to paint opposition as solely religious, claiming that Christians are trying to force their beliefs on everyone (as if everyone except Christians had a First Amendment right to voice their values in the public square). Many Americans do see a strong moral imperative in the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Yet even from a purely pragmatic and evidentiary viewpoint, assisted suicide and euthanasia remain the quickest path to a tragic loss of autonomy and a death without dignity.

[1] J. Pereira, MBChB MSc, "Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide: the illusion of safeguards and controls," Current Oncology, Vol 18, No 2 (2011).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Gallup poll reveals our hypocrisy on suicide; we are prey to pragmatism

Regarding controversial moral issues, a new Gallup poll finds that the issue dividing Americans most is assisted suicide.
Americans have always tended to favor pragmatic approaches. Pragmatism is hardly the pinnacle of moral reasoning, however; pragmatism too easily translates into self-interest, to the detriment of others. Just imagine leaving your keys in your parked car and a purely pragmatic person who happens to need a car comes along...
A relative consensus regarding biblical principles used to guide Americans' moral decision making nuch more than it does today. As that commitment to biblical authority, which tends to temper two-dimensional pragmatic approaches to morality, has eroded, our pragmatic tendencies have become more pronounced ... and dangerous.
Our views on suicide provide a case in point.
The Gallulp poll reveals that four of five (80%) of us view suicide as morally wrong. Yet fewer than half of Americans (48%) view suicide as morally wrong when assisted by a doctor.
How can that be?
One way to view the discrepancy is that we still pay homage to our faith heritage, which reminds us that life is sacred, and that every  individual is valuable as created by God. Left unpressured, we tend to oppose suicide, which we recognize as violating the clear commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."
Yet our weakening commitment to that faith heritage prompts us to practice hypocrisy the moment our faith commitment is tested. Once pain enters the equation--as in the stories of patients suffering from a disease near the end of life--we buckle on the moral principle and quickly apply pragmatism.
"Better to die early than to suffer," we pragmatically conclude.
The medical context and soothing euphemisms such as "death with dignity" and "compassion in dying" provide our conflicted conscience with enough cover to shrug off our instinctive moral concern and walk away.
Besides the obvious problem of selling out our faith and moral commitment, the pragmatic stance on assisted suicide poses serious problems even in pragmatic terms.
As pointed out in Friday's post, Euthanasia and assisted suicide follow Communism's tragic trail, a recent medical journal article provides stunning evidence revealing that despite legal "safeguards" erected around assisted suicide and euthanasia:
  1. Patients are being put to death without consent.
  2. Doctors are hiding euthanasia from authorities.
  3. A requirement for a second consultation is being filled by biased doctors.
  4. Depressed patients are dying without help.
  5. The social slippery slope is expanding medical killing without limit.
  6. Palliative (comfort) care is giving way to cost-efficient medical killing
So even if one looks at assisted suicide from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, opposition remains the only sane response.
Secular pragmatists fail to recognize that God's principles work in the world He created. Like following a manufacturer's directions, biblical principles protect us from harm and lead us to a fuller life. Not easier--just fuller. And after life on this earth, well, that's a whole other story...