Questionable Motives

July 6, 2014

Freedom: what does it mean?

Filed under: abortion,Hobby Lobby,Law,Media,Medicine,SCOTUS — tildeb @ 11:32 pm

stupid burnsFirst, we have the legal decision to declare no 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinics because it infringes on freedom of speech.

Then we have the legal decision to allow an employer’s religious belief to determine employee healthcare coverage in the name of freedom of religion.

Note the term ‘freedom’. What does it mean?

For the addled judges and supporters of these terrible rulings who use this term in its legal sense, meaning liberty, let me suggest that  you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

How do I know?

Well, consider this full page ad bought and paid for by the recently victorious Hobby Lobby.

This ad demonstrates that these other freedoms – expression and religion – were really just a convenient cover for the kind of freedom needed to impose one’s religious beliefs on others without their consent. You know, the non-liberty kind of liberty favoured by tyrants of all pious and non pious stripes.

Freedom in the Hobby Lobby’s parlance and upheld by the highest court in the land means freedom to cherry pick quotations and revise history not because it’s true but because it is believed to properly represent the business owners’ historical revisions.

It means the freedom to misrepresent history in order to aid the addled judges to assume the separation of church and state was a mistake that they can now correct, to aid a government to act freely on behalf of the religious belief of some rich business owners for the state to sponsor their religious imposition wherever in in whatever way they believe best suits them. Impositions like religious indoctrination through public education.

This is what ‘freedom’ actually means for the religious who really care about a particular kind of equivalent freedom, another way to achieve equivalent freedom for all, meaning an equivalency that privileges a particular religious imposition so that ‘liberty’ can be enhanced for the few by limiting the liberty of the many.

And the five Catholic man majority on SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) went along with this legal doublespeak charade.

Can’t wait for sharia to make its publicly funded debut. Good times for all those other principled Hobby Lobby wannabes, eh?  (Check out The Young Turks video for a 12 minute rundown of the insanity of this ruling.)

Shame on these judges.

March 30, 2014

Why should religion be kept out of healthcare?

facepalmBecause it has nothing to do with providing best practices healthcare and everything to do with promoting its theology! And the problem becomes obvious when authority for healthcare decisions must pass through religious leadership that determines – based on theology and not medicine – if best practices ALIGNS with its dogma.

This is Crazytown.

Welcome to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a town of about 35,000 people who have one hospital called the Jane Phillips Medical Center. That hospital is part of Ascension Health, a large Catholic health care consortium.

Yeah, so what?

Well, in order to do their jobs, local obstetricians and gynecologists need to maintain privileges there.

Okay.

In order to maintain privileges, a doctor must meet the hospital’s POLICIES.

Sounds reasonable, right, because healthcare policies should be informed by best practices, right?

Wrong.

Catholic hospitals determine their polices based on Catholic doctrine first and foremost. Medical ethics are subject to this doctrine.

Are you beginning to grasp how concern about an incompatibility between religious belief and science-based treatment might arise?

Stick with me here.

What happens when Catholic doctrine stands contrary to some science-based medical service like… let’s say… oh, I don’t know… there are so many to choose from… birth control. Let’s return to Bartlesville/Crazytown and find out together, shall we?

Here is where the rubber of medical service providers meets the road of Catholic doctrine: local OB-GYN doctors who wish to maintain privileges at the one hospital can no longer prescribe birth control for birth control because it’s contrary to Catholic doctrine.

a meeting was held Wednesday to inform local doctors of gynecology and obstetrics that they can no longer prescribe contraceptives of any kind — if they are to be used as birth control. – See more at: http://examiner-enterprise.com/news/local-news/reports-jpmc-doctors-no-longer-allowed-prescribe-birth-control#sthash.O7ZbfxWK.dpuf

Who determines what healthcare services best fits the needs of patients and on what grounds: medical practitioners with advanced medical training or a group of celibate men in dresses and funny hats who pretend they can turn wine into blood and crackers into flesh by mumbling some Latin?

You are not surprised to find out that the authority – the right and god-sanctioned ethical authority – just so happens to be the group of celibate men… who require no medical expertise whatsoever who are on the basis of their religious authority better able to determine what constitutes the right medical services to provide. The specific patient’s welfare isn’t worth shit; maintaining the Church’s ethical standards are paramount, and local OB-GYNs are turned into their accomplices.

And some people are so militant, so strident, so hateful as to suggest that this hierarchy is intolerable in the public domain where there really is compelling evidence that religious belief when imposed on others is fundamentally incompatible with exercising individual autonomy to hold evidence-based science, its products, and its medical practitioners in higher esteem than religious shepherds s leading flocks of willing religious sheep. We are to vilify those who complain about this religious interference in the public domain to be superior to those who are educated and highly trained people in certain practices. After all, they must immoral because that’s what religious leadership tells us so it must be true. This is equivalent to plumbers and their expertise subject to oversight by those who think pipes can be cleared of problems caused by evil spirits through exorcism. If you have a plumbing problem, this kind of authority suddenly  becomes your concern when the plumber you must hire is obligated to not fix it for religious reasons.

The ongoing incompatibility between faith-based and science-adduced practices is so obvious, so ludicrous, so ethically screwed up, that its a mystery anyone with two neurons to rub together might think this hierarchy for determining services is in any way reasonable. It’s not; the truly delusional inmates are running the asylum… or, in this case, the hospital and its medical services.

November 29, 2013

What might a vaccine ad look like?

Filed under: Medicine,Science,vaccination — tildeb @ 11:09 am

August 26, 2013

Why is accommodating respect for faith-based beliefs stupid and irresponsible?

medical treatmentOver at  Jerry Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, he posted about a measles outbreak in Texas traced back to a mega-church and non vaccinated children.  Coyne titled his post, “Measles back again, thanks to religion,” and gave us information about the outbreak, the response from church authorities and its ‘medical’ team, and data on the disease, all very useful stuff (as usual). But I disagreed in one sense that the measles outbreak was due to religion. It was just as much back because of those who accommodate faith-based beliefs of any kind and smugly attack New Atheists for daring to criticize any of it publicly. This is what I wrote in my ridiculously long comment:

I apologize for the length of my comment, but this post highlights that the ‘enemy’ of reason and knowledge isn’t just religion per se but those who support and tolerate a methodology that is clearly broken, namely, the empowerment and public acceptance of any faith-based belief (an acceptance demonstrated by offering unjustified respect rather than justified criticism of those who exercise any faith-based belief. I’m talking to you, accommodationists).

Into the category of faith-based beliefs can be everything from religion to anti-vaccination, conspiracies to astrology, alternative medicine to Winfrey/Chopra/Dr. Oz-ian woo. Belief in these is all of a kind, and the root is faith- rather than evidence-based belief… a method of thinking that elevates possibility to be equivalent to probability, meaning that it’s a way to elevate any belief in something to be the same weight in consideration as not having belief in it. In other words, it’s a way to make any faith-based belief seem as reasonable as not believing… one either believes in alien abductions, for example, (by entertaining the possibility) or one does not (by seeming to be closed-minded when there is no compelling evidence in its favour). See? Equivalent: six of one, a half dozen of the other. How very reasonable and open-minded we are and not followers of scientism like those intolerant, strident, and militant folk who are Doin’ it Rong!

What’s lost, of course, is any meaningful way, a methodology we can trust, to allow reality to arbitrate the faith-based belief because the weight of evidence (supporting or not supporting the belief) plays no important role; the equivalency is already clearly established by believers, which is why any possible evidence for the most ludicrous of beliefs is drafted into service and used as if equivalent to the array of evidence contrary to them combined with the absence of compelling evidence where it should be if the belief were true. In this sense, the use of evidence (aka, reality) by the faith-based believer is only used in service to the belief, whereas in every other area of life we know enough to allow our beliefs to be in the service of reality… if we wish to function successfully in it.

Any method of inquiry that refuses to allow reality to adjudicate claims made about it is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self. Believers in faith-based beliefs fool themselves (along with the tacit approval of accommodationists who decide the appearance of being tolerant of foolishness is a higher standard of intellectual integrity than respecting reality to inform our beliefs about it). But it doesn’t end here and this is the point accommodationsits fail to appreciate. A measles outbreak doesn’t just threaten those foolish enough not to vaccinate; it threatens both the non vaccinated AND the vaccinated with exposure to a preventable disease! This is unconscionable stupidity and social irresponsibility in the face of spreading a very real disease because of acting on a faith-based belief. As if believing in such faith-based foolishness weren’t bad enough, acting on this foolishness carries with it a demonstrable cost to all of us that causes real harm to real people in real life. Faced with this reality, I must ask: where did all these ‘reasonable’ accommodationists suddenly go? This is where the rubber meets the road of why respecting faith-based beliefs by anyone including accommodationists is a public threat to the health and welfare of us all.

January 9, 2012

What are the beer goggles of medicine?

Filed under: CAM,Medicine,placebo/nocebo,Science — tildeb @ 11:11 am

In a word, placebo.

As the slang term indicates, the more one drinks in claims of complementary and alternative medical efficacy through the ‘power’ of placebo, the less inhibition and discretion one seems to exercise in critical thinking, making the blurred claims of alternative ‘therapies’ seem all the more attractive.

We describe this power of placebo by a common term: the placebo effect. So let’s take a moment and review what that effect actually is:

changes in how pain or subjective symptoms are perceived, not any physiological change that concretely affects the course of a disease.

Does this mean we can control health outcomes with our minds through belief? No. Placebo effects do not shrink tumors or change the underlying pathophysiology of disease. To be clear, there is no good evidence for any objective responses due to placebo; the placebo effect is the change of a patient’s subjective perception to his or her symptoms. Note the emphasis on perception and not on any change to symptoms themselves. This is the repeated mistake people make about understanding the placebo effect: all we are talking about when we talk about the placebo effect is the change to perceptions.

The CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) schtick is to pretend that the substances and treatments being sold cause symptomatic changes through the placebo effect. There is no good evidence to back that up and much good evidence contrary to it. To be clear, the efficacy of CAM rests not in the treatments but in the beliefs of its patients.

In medicine, when a treatment performs no better than placebo, it means that treatment doesn’t work.

Got that? Placebo means it doesn’t work.

Believers and practitioners of CAM, however, forget – and often intentionally – that placebo treatments are physiologically inert and present them to patients as if they were real efficacious medicine. But they know it’s not. And yet we in the public continue to be inundated with messages that they do. Obviously, something here is out of whack, and it rests with the CAM crowd.

The underlying assumption associated with CAM products and treatments that the use of placebo causes no harm is just as risky as my pathetic little beer goggle analogy; one may think one is going home with a fox (of both genders, let me be clear) but wake up to a coyote ugly morning. The same is true with CAM: that patients are going home with a placebo but wake up to a nocebo ugly morning. By this I mean that promoting belief in placebo efficacy also means promoting belief in nocebo efficacy, which refers to harmful, unpleasant, or undesirable effects a subject can also manifest through perception.

The sum total of the medical efficacy complementary and alternative treatments and many nostrums pretends to have (with the exception of herbal substances that possess chemical properties that can interact with our biology in both positive and negative ways), rests not on the treatments themselves but on the double edged sword contained within the beliefs of its patients. Seeing the world through such faith-based beliefs is not an inherently good, positive, or even neutral perspective but an inherently dangerous one.

How so?

Well, the very real side effects of investing faith in such subjectively sensitive beliefs and acting on them as if they were true in reality can be life-altering when a negative drug interaction occurs because a patient forgets to tell a doctor about some CAM herbal nostrum, or postpones  (like Steve Jobs) real medical intervention in favour of trying out some naturopathic treatment first, mistakenly hoping that wishful thinking through investing in faith-based belief will cause symptomatic changes, or that not vaccinating children will protect them from a perceived inoculation danger far smaller in reality than the very real and larger danger of an actual and highly contagious disease. These are some of the very real dangers faith-belief in CAM promotes. We need to take off our belief-based beer goggles before we do something stupid based on misunderstanding what placebo effect really means.

(h/t SBM)

September 28, 2011

What ever happened to Baby Joseph, ‘saved’ by the Priests for Life stormtroopers from the evil clutches of Canadian health care?

Back on March 22 of this year, I posted about why Priests for Life are theological thugs, fanatical religious stormtroopers who prey on the hopes of others to aid and abet and revel in the unnecessary suffering of others in the name of  honouring their god. Their latest victim was Baby Joseph Maracchli who, in October of 2010 at 10 months of age developed a brain fever and became vegetative just like another previous child of the Maracchlis. The family wanted a tracheotomy performed so that they could take the baby home to die but the hospital disagreed on compassionate medical grounds:

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

This is when the Priest for Life entered and through their efforts helped make this sad story into a fundraising campaign, where they spent a considerable amount of donated money to fly the baby to St. Louis and have the tracheotomy. From their warped point of view, the priests were ‘saviors’ of the baby, vilifying the baby’s Canadian health care team in the process. The baby was released at the end of April and went home to Windsor Ontario.

Today, the Windsor Star reports:

Br. Paul O’Donnell, Major Superior at Franciscan Brothers of Peace, posted a message posted early Wednesday reported Baby Joseph had died.

“It is with great sadness that I report to you the passing of our dear Baby Joseph Maraachli. He passed away peacefully at home with his parents and family at his side. Praise God he had seven precious months with his family to be surrounded by love and was not put to death at the hands of doctors. May Joseph rest in the loving arms of his Heavenly Father surrounded by all the angels.”

Back in March, I pointed out that:

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

This time it took only five additional months for the baby to die after our priestly heroes intervened. They’re slipping as they get older, I guess, but any additional unnecessary suffering is a real feather in their theological caps.

September 1, 2011

What is the medical version of the Courtier’s Reply?

Filed under: Homeopathy,Medicine,oogity boogity,Science,woo — tildeb @ 11:22 am

We find a perfect example of this detestable apologetic accommodationist approach for ‘sophisticated’ thinking over at Sabio Lantz’s popular Triangulations, offered up on platter in his post Why do you reject Homeopathy? This is the medical version of the Courtier’s Reply that invokes the need for some level of sophistication to be exercised in order to reject the tenets of homeopathy properly… while making room for what starts out to be hypothetical efficacy derived from it and morphs into actual efficacy associated with it.

Sabio lists three main categories into which a reader’s rejection may fall: tribal doubt (no other ‘tribe member’ accepts it so, being part of this ‘tribe’, you don’t either) , mechanism doubt (the mechanistic explanation is inadequate), and smattering of science (you believe some studies you’ve heard in passing that claim no evidence of efficacy). A fourth classification is for those who have done in-depth research into the applicable science and waded through all the counter evidence of non-efficacy before arriving at an opinion of rejection (similar to the level of knowledge about the finery that is needed before one is allowed to comment of the nakedness of the Emperor).

He is following the tried and true method of the accommodationist so that he can ask with a straight face, Do you agree that something can work in spite of the explanation offered? Notice the words ‘CAN WORK’. That sounds like a reasonable question, doesn’t it? But then, Poof! ; suddenly we’re talking about homeopathy as if it DOES WORK – even if this explanation is absolute bunk – which is slowly revealed to be Sabio’s position all along… beginning with the comment that “I strongly agree that much is to be learned from alternative medicines which has nothing to do with the science behind their treatments.” Really? And what might that be? How gullible people are? How undermining healthy scepticism helps woo-peddlers? How faith-based belief can be accommodated with conflicting knowledge? Do tell, Sabio; do tell. In this post, of course, we never do find out.

What he means by has nothing to do with the science behind their treatments , of course, is the LACK of good science, plausible science, that informs these alternative, complimentary, integrated, holistic, natural treatments… treatments  that are somehow qualitatively different from what we call efficacious medicine but still cause effect, but once you start down the path to presenting the Emperor as if he could be clothed – that woo treatments CAN WORK even if the explanation is wrong  – it is difficult to regain one’s intellectual footing. But intellectual integrity is never the goal of accommodationism; it’s all about appearing to be non judgmental about woo and hyper-critical of justifiable scepticism. The real goal at the end of the day for the accommodationist is to present himself as both a supporter and defender as well as a reasonable sceptic of woo (unlike those ranters and hyper-rational people who dismiss woo claims out of hand because they have no good reasons to believe them in the first place).  It’s tricky ground for accommodationists when the two – woo and scepticism – are in conflict from the get go (see here for why the treatment should banned according the British Medical Association).

Well, what is the explanation of homeopathy that is being dismissed by some level of ‘sophisticated rejection’?

Orac explains:

Most skeptics are aware of the two main principles of homeopathy, neither of which is based on anything resembling good science. The first principle is known as the Law of Similars, which is commonly phrased as “like cures like.” The concept is that the way to choose a homeopathic remedy is to choose something that causes the symptoms the practitioner wants to alleviate. Of course, there’s no general scientific or biological principle to support the Law of Similars. In reality, it’s nothing more than a variant of ancient concepts of sympathetic magic. Yet it is the main basis of all of homeopathy.

The second big law of homeopathy is known as the Law of Infinitesimals. This is the most famous principle of homeopathy that states that the way to make a remedy stronger is to dilute it, a principle that laughs at chemistry, physics, and biology. Indeed, common dilutions of homeopathic remedies (for example, 30C, which is 30 serial 100-fold dilutions, or a dilution of 1060) have been diluted so much that the odds that even a single molecule remains in the remedy are, well, infinitesimal. That’s why it’s not for nothing that skeptics frequently point out that homeopathy is nothing but water. It’s even loonier than that, though. The reason is that dilution is not enough. At each step, we are told by homeopaths in all seriousness that the succussion at each dilution step is critical to “potentize” the remedy. Samuel Hahnemann himself, the inventor of homeopathy, used to succuss his remedies by slapping them against a Bible. These days, in at least one case, a big company like Boiron have machines that do the succussion automatically for remedies like oscillococcinum up to 200C, which represents a 10400-fold dilution. Given that there are only around 1080 atoms in the known universe, readers can easily see the ridiculousness.

So here’s the thing: what is it that is actually being rejected? I think it’s the central tenet of any woo claim about efficacy  – a faith-based belief that supernatural forces can cause through natural treatment natural effect. Sabio suggests that there really, really, really is evidence of efficacy in some of these woo treatments (“I have demonstrated acupuncture to many folks (not just patients). What is real fun is to get a hyper-rational person to experience things they don’t believe exist”) and that this evidence is available (“But I wager you have not read the studies published by homeopaths showing effectiveness. I worked with an MD homeopath who published in Pediatrics about her research in Guatemala with homeopathic remedies used to treat diarrhea and showed an effect”). See? Homeopathy, says Sabio,  DOES produce evidence of efficacy, and there it is: the switch in language from the reasonable CAN WORK to DOES. But he doesn’t really mean supernaturalism at work, does he?

Let’s look.

Sabio actually means efficacy of placebo when he talk about efficacy: “It is funny how people can allow various placebos (to) work for them and yet now (sic) allow others.” Now think about that comment for a moment because it reveals the sneaky way accommodationists forgive promoters of woo for their lack of specificity… through the subtlety of language.

Sabio is suggesting that placebo is more than what it actually is:  self-reporting of feeling better. He present it as a thing, something you can allow or reject, something that works for you. But that’s not what placebo is, not what placebo means. What placebo means is that mood and belief can have a significant effect on the subjective perception of a treatment’s efficacy. Placebo is not any kind of additional ‘thing’ brought to bear by health care practitioners. Placebo comes only from the patient and its ‘efficacy’ is not directly physiological (although to be clear there are biological mechanisms by which mental processes can affect pain). That’s why placebo is often – and confusingly – referred to as an ‘effect’. But to be equally clear, the more concrete and physiological the outcome, the smaller the placebo effect. At its explanatory extreme, that’s why amputees don’t grow back new limbs no matter how much they may wish it to be.

Notice how Sabio slips in the notion that placebo works ‘for’ someone…as if to say if we build it they will come, that putting efficacy of placebo into the patient’s domain means the same thing as putting efficacy of woo treatments under the control of the patient.  This subtle change in language is insidious because it alters what placebo is – self reporting perception – into something it is not – an efficacious deliverable element of treatment with the patient’s permission. This confusion is rampant in the public domain and, in a nutshell, is the main driver of woo in health care: confusion about causal effect.

From wi-fi fears to chlorination of water, from acupuncture to reiki, from faith healing to anti-vaxers, the confusion about the need to link causal effect is neither clarified nor confirmed by accommodationists who pretend we can put aside causation to better respect faith-based beliefs while maintaining intellectual integrity. We can’t. It’s sneaky, dishonest, and cowardly, and comes at a high cost to respecting knowledge . And here’s why:

I think the notion of what’s true in fact (information that is reliable, consistent, and practical in reality) is knowable and dependable. This is what science is built on and we use practical applications based on exactly this everyday in every way of our lives. Accommodationists and apologists for woo take all this and assume it’s equivalent to some democratic vote. (Sabio: I hope to help interested readers to understand why people practice homeopathy and why millions of patients swear to its effectiveness.  So I am talking to those who are willing to consider not dismissing homeopathy out-of-hand, and instead make an effort to understand why others value it so strongly.) That’s not how reality works. You can’t vote against gravity and expect efficacy because millions want to lift its effects to make room for their anti-gravity beliefs any more than you can vote against evolution to make room for the oogity boogity of creationism or vote against science-based efficacious medicine to make room for homeopathy and expect me to sit by and nod and say how wise that is. It’s not. It’s a denial of what’s true in reality (see above description of what that means)… not a philosophical difference, nor a lack of rejection sophistication, nor any other mitigating term accommodationists would prefer to call it. Belief in woo is a denial of what’s true in reality (remember, see above description of what that means).
And it is downright dishonest to pretend that what’s true in reality (see above description of what that means) is only empirically available in some lab. It’s right in front of our faces all the time and we rely on accurate knowledge about it to function. We really must stop pretending that people who sow doubt about trusting in this knowledge (immediately testable and verifiable) rely on the same kind of faith woo believers exercise to maintain their ‘spiritual explanations’ about the supernatural. It’s not just different; it an exercise of hypocrisy that trusts this knowledge on behalf of their lives on a day to day, moment to moment, basis but then a rationalization using such fallacious arguments like the Courtier’s Reply and sneaky word substitutions to suspends this same knowledge to make room for some woo-soaked apologetic belief in oogity boogity.

March 22, 2011

Why are Priests for Life theological thugs?

First, who is Baby Joesph Maracchli and second, what’s the big deal about his medical care?

Joseph Maracchli, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born on January 22, 2010, and his parents say they noticed he couldn’t eat or breathe properly and wouldn’t open his eyes or cry. The family, who lives in Windsor, Ontario on the Canada – United States border near Michigan, took him to a Michigan hospital in June 2010, where he was diagnosed with a metabolic brain disease, which the doctor said would make him developmentally delayed. Maracchli was treated and returned to normal after a month. However, in October 2010 he developed a fever and was breathing rapidly and was rushed to the emergency room and later transferred to the London Health Sciences Centre in London (LHSC), Ontario. The hospital said he was in a persistent vegetative state from which he would never recover. Maracchli’s family wanted the staff there to do a tracheotomy so that they could take him home and he could die in the care of his family instead of a hospital. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

Enter our heroes, the Priests for Life, those celibate men of the cloth who (incredibly and without shame) think their religious beliefs equip them with the kind of god-soaked moral knowledge necessary to determine proper medical treatment over and above a team of highly trained and specialized medical professionals who actually care for children as their daily job. Let us keep in mind that there has never been a suffering life these meddling priests have not tried to prolong. The Terri Schiavo debacle immediately comes to mind.

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University picks up the story:

Little Joseph Maraachli is a new poster boy for the “pro-life” movement. But what has happened to him should instead teach us what to do – and what not to do – if we are really serious about saving human lives. The 13-month-old from Canada, who has been having medical treatment for most of his short life, suffers from a severe neurodegenerative disease. He has difficulty breathing on his own. His head is small for his age and has not grown for three months. He has seizures. His pupils do not respond to light or follow a moving object. His movements are not purposeful.

Then Priests for Life, a Catholic -abortion and anti-euthanasia organization stepped in, chartering an air ambulance to fly Joseph from Canada to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, in St. Louis, which will perform the operation the parents requested.

“We Rescued Baby Joseph!” says a page on the Priests for Life website. The organization’s director, the Rev. Frank Pavone, says he has been told that it could cost as much as $150,000 for Joseph’s stay in the pediatric intensive care unit. That doesn’t include the cost of the aircraft, which would have added thousands more to the bill. Priests for Life is, of course, asking its supporters to donate to pay these costs.

Here’s the irony. According to the most rigorous charity evaluation agency in the country, GiveWell.org, you can save a child’s life for about $1,000. All you have to do is give the money to their top-rated charity, Village Reach, which delivers vaccines and other urgently needed medical supplies to rural areas in developing countries.

If Priests for Life were really serious about saving lives, instead of “rescuing” Joseph so he can live another few months lying in bed, unable to experience the normal joys of childhood, let alone become an adult, they could have used the money they have raised to save 150 lives – most of them children who would have gone on to live healthy, happy lives for 50 years or more.

We’ve seen such things happen before. In 2005 the anti-abortion movement put a huge effort, and large sums of money, into “saving” Terri Schiavo. In the end, after Congress had been recalled specifically to enable a federal court to hear the case, she was allowed to die. An autopsy showed her brain had been severely and irreversibly damaged.

We can obsess over Joseph and Terri – or we can make an honest effort to save the lives of countless children whose names we may never know. It is our choice.

But the Priests for Life don’t want to save lives in the sense of protecting the dignity of those who are already alive yet suffering; they want to prolong the biological functioning of a body regardless of the suffering… the younger the better and a fetus especially, even if it kills women to do so. Since becoming involved in the medical treatment of Baby Joseph, the Priests for Life have mobilized support from the likes of the Hope Network and the legions of catholics and christians who think these groups do god’s work. Now the medical staff at LSHC have been the recipients of the kind of faith-based love the anti-abortion crowd – championed as they are by Priests for Life – sends out to those who disagree with their beliefs: hate mail and death threats.

Oh, I can hear the faithful claiming loudly that those extremists don’t represent the mainstream religious.

But they do.

You see, Priests for Life and the anti-choice crowd are no different than the mainstream believers in that they don’t give a rat’s ass respecting your life;  they care only for life, which according to their beliefs belongs not to you but their god. And they will continue to act accordingly not to respect your rights and freedoms as an autonomous individual where dignity of personhood must reside, if the term ‘personal dignity’ is to have any personal meaning, but as god’s Stormtroopers out to protect what belongs to him. That’s why they’re theological thugs and are empowered by those who respect their beliefs about what god owns over and above respecting your personal dignity.

November 13, 2010

Just how gullible does the Roman Catholic Church want Americans to be?

This is the US we’re talking about, land of the free, home of the brave, the shining city on the hill, the Nobel prize capital of the world. So, naturally, I thought the roman catholic church was so busy vilifying secularists and the great evil they represent – including such theistic affronts as human rights, political freedoms, dignity of personhood, respect for scientific understanding, and all that mundane, temporal jazz – that I assumed this conference was a bunch of modern day catholics poking fun at one of their absurdities from almost-ancient history.

Isn’t that the way most enlightened and educated Americans think about demonic possession?

But when it comes to treating demonic possession, the rc church is all business. It remains steadfast in bringing to bear all the modern weaponry at its disposal for the modern American citizen: exorcisms! That’s right, folks. There is growing need for them and the church needs to step up and do its theological duty. Cast that demon out. Use force if you have to. That very difficult and demanding expertise includes the brute force of using conjugated Latin, too. Very scary stuff to any demon to be sure… and even scarier to young people everywhere who need to learn it. Nevertheless, let us press on and read about what the rc church is doing behind closed doors at a hush-hush Baltimore conference:

There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists (it IS a university degree after all), but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.

Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.

Let’s ponder that last quote for a moment. Exorcism is needed when the devil is involved. Otherwise, one doesn’t really need that directed Latin. I see.

“But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary,” he said. “But we have to be prepared.”

Yes, I strongly suspect that is rare. And extraordinary. And supernatural, it goes without saying. But the church is on the job. Take THAT, you evil secularist doubter who stands by while that misogynistic Satan has his way with small boys and helps protect the pedophiles in his employ. Oh, wait… I’m thinking of… umm… (diversion is needed)… Squirrel!

Where was I? Exorcism. Right.

So how does one diagnose demonic possession?

Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned (excluding Latin, I presume); extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.

A person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness, according to Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, which superseded the previous guidelines, issued in 1614.

1999. Yup. New guidelines. 1999. The age of rare, extraordinary, supernatural demonic infestations are being re-defined by Vatican bureaucrats for their version of the disease in DSM IV (under Demonic Possession, no doubt) while atom colliders are being built deep underground, genomes are being catelogued, and missions to Mars are being carried out.

Now that leaves me wondering what kind of doctor rules out mental or physical illness for a bat shit crazy person babbling incoherently (sorry… speaking in ‘tongues’ is the correct lingo I think) and exhibiting violent behaviours including self harm? I would tend to think it must be a bat shit crazy doctor who is no longer able to maintain a living as a general practitioner… for somewhat obvious reasons of having lost his mind and turning to Oogity Boogity! for his professional opinion. I’m glad that such a person is not my family doctor and the church is welcome to him (I assume no women would fit the employment criteria… having the wrong gonads and all).

“People are talking about, are we taking two steps back?” Father Vega said. “My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.”

But he said that there could eventually be a rising demand for exorcism because of the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics to the United States. People from those cultures, he said, are more attuned to the experience of the supernatural.

That’s religious-speak for too damned ignorant to know any better, which is just the way the church likes ‘em. Especially those with an MD after their names. Always room at the inn, dontcha know, if you have the right gonads, the right frequency tuned to bat shit crazy, and the right gullibility to think modern medicine and demonic possession are mutually accommodating.

And people think science and religion are incompatible. I know! Those militant, strident, and arrogant atheistic secularists say the most ridiculous things!

September 2, 2010

How can we tell if reports about science are biased?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,Media,Medicine,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 11:20 am

First there was this study from Britain’s National Council for Palliative Care published in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled The role of doctor’s religious faith and ethnicity in taking ethically controversial decisions during end-of-life care, that concluded:

Greater acknowledgement of the relationship of doctors’ values with clinical decision-making is advocated.

In other words, a doctor’s values has an affect on the decisions advocated.

According to the study’s results, ethnicity has very little effect whereas the specialty of the practitioner has the greatest effect. Hospital doctors discuss and use methods that could hasten death in the terminally ill at 10 times the rate of palliative care specialists. Of particular interest is the finding that doctors who are agnostic or atheist are twice as likely to use such methods as deeply religious doctors.

How do we interpret what that means?

Steve Novella at Neurologica explains:

To me the most interesting result is that specialty had a ten-fold influence on decision-making. This does reflect my anecdotal experience – that doctors who routinely treat the terminally ill in an in-patient setting are more comfortable and practiced in raising treatment questions that could influence the duration of life. Palliative care specialists, on the other hand, are focused on palliation and may not be as comfortable suggesting withdrawal of care or measures that might hasten death.

That sounds quite reasonable and makes good sense. But that’s certainly not the conclusion reached by Doctor Seale:

Dr. Clive Seale, a professor at Barts and the London School of Medicien and Dentistry, conducted a random mail survey of more than 8,500 doctors. Almost 4,000 responded and more than 3,000 described deaths of a patient.

Seale found doctors. many of whom care for elderly patients or are neurologists, who describe themselves as “extremely” of “very nonreligious” were twice as likely to report that the care for their last terminally ill patient included euthanasia practices such as deep sedation.

He found religious doctors were also less likely to keep patients in continuous deep sedation or to support legislation allowing assisted suicides.

“If I were a patient facing end of life care, I would want to know what my doctor’s views were on religious matters – whether they are non-religious or religious and whether the doctor felt that would influence them in the kind of decisions they were looking at,” Seale said. According to an AP report, Seale wrote that “nonreligious doctors should confess their predilections to their patients,” so they know they could become victims. (Bold added by me for emphasis.)

Is that doctor Seale’s conclusion or the writer of the article from which I have taken the excerpt? I suspect it is Seale’s when he uses the word ‘confess’ as if a doctor talking about all available treatment options with patients and their families were a sin rather than selecting and discussing only those treatment options that the doctor found agreeable with his or her religious beliefs! And the article’s writer seems to be in agreement with that because he starts his article with:

Patients worried about becoming a victim of euthanasia should ensure they find a doctor who holds strong religious views. That’s because a new study out of Great Britain finds physicians who are atheist or agnostic twice as likely to make decisions taking the lives of terminally ill patients. (Again, bold added by me for emphasis.)

I think we need to pay attention to words that indicate strong bias when we attempt to understand what studies mean and discriminate accordingly. As for this study’s conclusion, I think Novella gets it exactly right:

[...] this is not a controlled study but a self-reporting survey, and so the results are highly unreliable. At best it indicates that follow up research is warranted. But taken at face value, if anything this survey shows that culture in medicine still plays a large role in determining practice. And further it suggests that some doctors allow their religious faith to interfere with their decision-making when it comes to end-of-life care.

Accurate and informative science reporting is becoming something of a lost art these days. We need to be aware of the difference between what a study’s results may mean and how they are interpreted and reported to us. Going to the source is always a good strategy but we can also be much more aware of words that immediately reveal bias to affect our confidence in the accuracy of what we are reading.

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