Low Vaccine Rates Lead to Disease Outbreaks in Michigan

Recently in Traverse City, Michigan, there has been an outbreak of pertussis. Why? Look no further than low vaccination rates, writes Phil Plait:

In Traverse City, a recent outbreak of pertussis forced the closure of a charter school with 1,200 students (there were 10 confirmed cases and 167 probable cases) and infected children at 14 other schools.

Why did this disease hit schools so hard? The reason is almost certainly exactly what you’d think: Vaccination rates for children in schools are low because parents have been opting them out.

Read the entire article here.


New York Is About to Change Its Medical Misconduct Law to Protect Quacks

Slate‘s Brian Palmer writes about a disturbing piece of legislation moving through the New York state legislature:

How can you tell whether a doctor has screwed up? You use other doctors as a measuring stick. That’s why our tort law defines medical malpractice as an act that “deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community.” Now the New York State Legislature wants to substitute its own judgment for that of medical scientists. If it succeeds, rogue doctors will be able to shill their non-evidence-based treatments without worrying about intervention.

In May and June, the two houses of the New York State Legislature unanimously passed a bill prohibiting the state’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct—the agency that disciplines doctors who put their patients in danger—from so much as investigating a claim of medical misconduct that is “based solely on treatment that is not universally accepted by the medical profession.” The bill’s wording is strange—after all, very few practices are “universally accepted” in medicine. And why would the state want to protect practitioners who use unaccepted treatments? Drill down into the text and you’ll see that this is yet another attempt to promote acceptance of chronic Lyme disease.

Keep reading here.

Inside The Highly Sophisticated Group That’s Quietly Making It Much Harder To Get An Abortion

Writing at Think Progress, Erica Hellerstein shines a spotlight on one organization’s disturbing work to restrict access to abortion across the United States:

Americans United for Life, founded in 1971 by conservative Catholic L. Brent Bozell, is often described as the primary legal arm of the anti-abortion movement. Its goal is to make abortion inaccessible through an approach many call “incrementalism” — blanketing the country in laws and court cases that choke abortion access at the state level — which contrasts an all-or-nothing absolutist strategy pushing to ban abortion outright. Regardless of their tactics, though, AUL and other anti-abortion advocates all have the same end goal: to abolish abortion in the United States.

You can read the full article here.

Vaccine Alternatives Offered by Homeopaths ‘Irresponsible’

An investigation by the Canadian news outlet CBC Marketplace investigation found that some alternative health practitioners are offering unproven vaccine “alternatives” to parents:

Some of the homeopathic practitioners that Marketplace visited offered treatments, called “nosodes,” as vaccine alternatives, telling parents that the treatment is as effective as vaccines against diseases such as measles, polio and pertussis (whooping cough), which is highly contagious and can be fatal for infants.

Nosodes are made when diseased tissue or excretions are diluted to the point where any trace of the original substance may not be present. Homeopathic practitioners argue that the memory of the original substance is enough to create immunity. Public health groups have been critical of this approach.

Some homeopathic practitioners also downplayed the severity of communicable diseases like measles, which are preventable by vaccination. Measles can result, in severe cases, in brain damage and death, and kill approximately one in 1,000 children worldwide who contract the disease.

Several said the likelihood of contracting these diseases was slim.

But while vaccine-preventable diseases like measles remain uncommon in Canada, a warning by the Public Health Agency of Canada from earlier this year warned of an unusually high number of cases, with outbreaks reported in five provinces.

“I think it’s frightening,” Shannon MacDonald, a registered nurse and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Alberta who researches vaccine trends, told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson.

“If the herd immunity level drops and these diseases are introduced into the community, those children are not protected,” MacDonald says. “You have well-meaning parents who’ve been provided an option, which they’ve been told that it’s going to protect their children. And it’s a lie.”

You can read the full article here.

Law and Medicine: Pediatric Faith Healing

Writing for the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics, Kevin Abbott analyzes several cases which illustrate various approaches to clashes between religion and state law, concluding:

It is a well-established principle that constitutionally protected religious freedoms are not absolute, and the government is willing to narrowly limit such freedoms to the extent necessary to protect the welfare of its children.

You can read the entire article here.

New Jersey Assembly Advances Death With Dignity Legislation

By Nicholas Little
Legal Director, Center for Inquiry

On Thursday, November 13, the New Jersey State Assembly, the lower legislative house, voted 41-31 to pass a bill permitting physician-assisted suicide in the Garden State. The bill was originally intended to be voted on in June of this year, but that vote had been dropped, and the bill finally came to the floor in the recent aftermath of cancer sufferer Brittany Maynard making use of Oregon’s humanitarian law permitting death with dignity in that state.

The New Jersey law closely follows those already in place in Montana, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. It requires a diagnosis from two separate doctors that a patient is suffering from a terminal disease, which will cause death within the next six months. In order to take advantage of the law, a patient must be a New Jersey resident, over the age of 18, and possess the capacity to make health care decisions. The bill includes multiple safeguards, including a requirement that the patient is referred for counselling if depressed or suffering from a psychological or psychiatric disorder, that the patient’s next of kin be notified (unless the patient declines said notification), and that no medical personal be required to participate in the process.

For patients who meet the requirements, and make the informed decision to request, the law permits them to be provided with medication which they can self-administer in order to end their lives. The medication must be requested both orally and in writing, and, at least 15 days after the initial oral request, the patient must make a second oral request. At that point, the physician is required to offer the patient the opportunity to rescind the request. After this, and at least two days after the signed written request, the physician may prescribe the medication.

The passage of this bill is a major step forward for the rights of terminally ill patients in New Jersey. However, its future passage is far from clear. While the New Jersey Senate has a Democratic majority of 24 out of 40 seats, it is not clear whether the bill would gain approval there. New Jersey has a plurality (40%) of Roman Catholics, a church whose leadership is inextricably opposed to assisted suicide legislation. Lay opinion amongst Catholics, as on other issues, varies, with significant support for the rights of terminally ill patients to control their passing. Even if the bill were to pass both chambers, it seems likely that Republican Governor Chris Christie would veto it. Governor Christie has stated repeatedly that he is pro-life, and has vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood in New Jersey multiple times. Current reports from the pro-life movement indicate he has pledged to them he will veto this bill. Such a veto seems particularly likely if Governor Christie is planning to seek the Republican nomination for the Presidency for the 2016 election. To override such a veto, the bill must receive the votes of two thirds of the members, requiring thirteen further Assembly members to grant their support.

Quoting Hobby Lobby, Federal Appeals Court Hands Down Big Victory For Birth Control

ThinkProgress reports on a promising decision by a federal appeals court regarding whether an employer can deny employees health care coverage based on religion:

A federal appeals court in Washington, DC handed down a decision on Friday that could neutralize some of the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby if it is upheld on appeal. Hobby Lobby held that employers with religious objections to birth control have broad immunity from federal rules requiring them to include birth control in their employer-provided health plan. Judge Nina Pillard’s decision in Priests For Life v. Department of Health and Human Services, however, indicates that there are limits to an employer’s ability to deny birth control coverage to their employees.

You can read the full article here.

How Religious Leaders Are Hindering Vaccination Programs Across the World

Christian Today covers efforts by bishops with the Catholic Church in Kenya to stop the spread of the tetanus vaccination:

The vaccine is aimed at women in their childbearing years and the bishops say that it is being used as a population control measure.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, which are running the programme to immunise 2.4 million women, expressed in a statement for Christian Today their “deep concern about the misinformation circulating in the media” about the vaccine.

The statement said: “The allegations are that the tetanus vaccine used by the Government of Kenya and UN agencies is contaminated with a hormone (hCG) that can cause miscarriages and render some women sterile. These grave allegations are not backed up by evidence, and risk negatively impacting national immunisation programmes for children and women.”

You can read the full article here. You can also read coverage  by Religion News Service here.

A Mix of Wins and Losses in the 2014 Midterm Elections

CFI’s Director of Public Policy, Michael De Dora, summarizes noteworthy midterm election results, including a couple wins on the reproductive rights front:

Win: For the third time, Colorado voters rejected an amendment to the state constitution (Amendment 67) — this time by a nearly two-to-one margin — which would have defined a fertilized egg as a legal “person” starting at fertilization.

Win: North Dakota voters, 64% to 36%, rejected an amendment to the state constitution (Measure 1) that stated, “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.'”

Win: Illinois voters approved, 66% to 34%, a non-binding advisory question that asked whether health insurance plans should be required to provide coverage for prescription birth control.

Loss: Tennessee voters, 53% to 47%, approved an amendment to the state constitution (Amendment 1) that will allow the state legislature to enact, amend or repeal state laws regarding abortion, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to protect the mother’s life.

You can read the full post here.

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