NPR Host Diane Rehm Emerges as Key Force in the Right-to-Die Debate

Michael S. Rosenwald writes in The Washington Post on an emerging leader in the debate  over end-of-life care:

Diane Rehm and her husband John had a pact: When the time came, they would help each other die.

John’s time came last year. He could not use his hands. He could not feed himself or bathe himself or even use the toilet. Parkinson’s had ravaged his body and exhausted his desire to live.

“I am ready to die,” he told his Maryland doctor. “Will you help me?”

The doctor said no, that assisting suicide is illegal in Maryland. Diane remembers him specifically warning her, because she is so well known as an NPR talk show host, not to help. No medication. No pillow over his head. John had only one option, the doctor said: Stop eating, stop drinking.

So that’s what he did. Ten days later, he died.

For Rehm, the inability of the dying to get legal medical help to end their lives has been a recurring topic on her show. But her husband’s slow death was a devastating episode that helped compel her to enter the contentious right-to-die debate.

“I feel the way that John had to die was just totally inexcusable,” Rehm said in a long interview in her office. “It was not right.”

Keep reading here.

Obama Administration Is Quietly Racking Up Court Victories For Birth Control, Despite Hobby Lobby

Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress reports on a series of promising developments regarding the birth control rule:

On Wednesday, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld federal rules intended to ensure access to birth control, over a claim that employers who object to following those rules on religious groups should be exempt from them. With that, the Third Circuit became the fourth federal appeals court to reach a similar conclusion in a challenge brought by an employer who objects to some or all forms of birth control, despite concerns that the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby would impede access to contraceptive care.

You can read the full article here.

Canada’s High Court Rules Doctors Can Help Ill Patients Die

Breaking news from the Associated Press:

Canada’s highest court struck down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide for mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses Friday, declaring that outlawing that option deprives dying people of their dignity and autonomy.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision reverses its own decision two decades ago and gives Parliament and provincial legislators a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of consenting adults who are enduring intolerable suffering to seek medical help ending their lives. The current ban on doctor-assisted suicide stands until then.

The judgment said the ban infringes on the life, liberty and security of individuals under Canada’s constitution. It had been illegal in Canada to counsel, aid or abet a suicide, an offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

You can read more about the decision here.

California’s Democratic Senators Want to End Most Vaccine Exemptions

Dave Weigel of Bloomberg Politics reports that U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both of California, today released a letter that they sent to the state’s secretary for health and human services, calling for a change in personal exemptions to vaccines:

“California’s current law allows two options for parents to opt out of vaccine requirements for school and daycare. … They must either make this decision with the aid of a health professional, or they can simply check a box claiming that they have religious objections to medical care. We think both options are flawed, and oppose even the notion of a medical professional assisting to waive a vaccine requirement unless there is a medical reason, such as an immune deficiency.”

Read the full article here.

Deniers of Science: The Anti-Vaccination and Anti-Abortion Movements

Writing on The Huffington Post, David Grimes — a former Centers for Disease Control official turned author —  ties together several anti-science trends, concluding that:

Whether the public health threat is viral or political, medical science should guide health decisions. The alternative to public health policy based on science is”backsliding into medieval ignorance” and reversing decades of medical progress.

Read the entire article here.

Chiropractors, Naturopaths, and Acupuncturists Lose in State Legislatures

Over at Science Based Medicine, Jan Bellamy reviews 2013-2014’s state-by-state battles against quackery in public policy.

Though the year was “a bust for chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and assorted other practitioners of pseudo-medicine,” some ground was lost to them. Likewise, 2014 offers a model for what to possibly expect in 2015, especially as health insurance reform continues to play out across the United States.

Click here to read Jan Bellamy’s 2013-2014 legislative review.


Measles Outbreak Spreads in US After Unvaccinated Woman Visits Disneyland

After 2014 set a record for measles cases in the United States since the disease was eliminated in 2000, The Guardian examines a new outbreak centered on Disneyland in California:

What started as a measles outbreak among seven people who visited Disneyland in December has spread to more than 26, as an unvaccinated California woman apparently transmitted the virus through airports and the theme park, health officials said.

State health departments in California, Colorado, Utah and Washington and have confirmed cases of the extremely contagious virus, the Los Angeles Timesreported on Wednesday. Taken together, the cases would account for almost 12% of the expected measles cases for the entire year (there are 220 cases per year on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).


The California department of public health said on 7 January that officials believe the woman who started the outbreak was staying in the Disneyland theme park in December. According to the LA Times, the woman is believed to be an unvaccinated traveler in her 20s.

Read the full article here.

European Court of Human Rights to Decide on Case Involving French Quadriplegic

Cedric Simon of BizNews reports that later this week, Europe’s human rights court will weigh whether a man in a vegetative state should be taken off life support in France:

Vincent Lambert, 38, who was left severely brain damaged and quadriplegic as a result of a 2008 road accident, has for months been at the centre of a judicial drama over his right to die.

In January 2014, Lambert’s doctors, backed by his wife and six of his eight siblings, decided to stop the intravenous food and water keeping him alive in line with a 2005 passive euthanasia law in France which allows treatment maintaining life to be withheld.

His 33-year-old wife, Rachel, who is a psychiatric nurse, said he would never have wanted to be kept alive artificially, while doctors said that their patient was “suffering”.

However, his deeply religious Catholic parents, half-brother and sister won an urgent court application to stop the plan. In an appeal, the French supreme administrative court, known as the State Council, ordered three doctors to draw up a report on Lambert’s condition and in June ruled that the decision to withdraw care from a man with no hope of recovery was lawful.

Lambert’s parents then took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which ordered France to keep Lambert alive while they decided whether the State Council’s decision was in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

You can read more here.

U.S. Court Upholds NY State Vaccination Requirement for Students

Public health and medical science have won a significant victory in New York:

New York state’s requirement that children be vaccinated in order to attend public school does not violate parents’ religious rights under the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan also ruled that students who receive religious exemptions from the vaccination law may be kept out of school during disease outbreaks, affirming a lower court decision.

The 2nd Circuit rejected claims by three New York City parents who said the individual right to religious liberty granted by the First Amendment trumped the state’s goal of preventing the spread of diseases in schools.

Read the full article here.

The Atlantic: Anti-Vaxxers Are Idolizing the Amish, Inexplicably

At The Atlantic, Olga Khazan looks at the facts being ignored in a disturbingly popular listicle—”basically just catnip for the anti-GMO and anti-vax crowds”—making the rounds on social media, “Why The Amish Don’t Get Sick”:

The first tip, according to this article, is not getting vaccinated: “In spite of constant pressure from the government, the Amish still refuse to vaccinate.”

Nope. Most Amish parents vaccinate, but even then, the relatively low overall vaccination rate in the community fueled a massive measles outbreak in Ohio’s Amish country earlier this year. The incident proved something that Amish and “English” parents alike should know by now: Vaccines don’t cause autism, but not getting a vaccine can cause outbreaks of nasty, 19th-century diseases.

The rest of the items in the listicle aren’t as terrible. Being physically active, not getting too stressed out, and eating a lot of vegetables are all “Amish” habits the article says other Americans would do well to adopt. However, its suggestion that Amish food contains no GMOs is bunk—some Amish farms do use genetically modified crops for financial and efficiency reasons. Besides, there’s no evidence that genetically modified foods are detrimental to human health in any way.

But it’s the very premise of the article that’s bizarre. If you’re going to hype a community as “never getting sick,” use a place that’s actually remarkably healthy, like Minneapolis. Not only do Amish people get sick, they get some of the worst diseases in the world.

Read the full article here.

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