At Science-Based Medicine, David Gorski details the disturbing integration pseudoscience into the care of American veterans:
Today’s topic is the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and its embrace of pseudoscience. VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) provide care for over 8 million veterans, ranging from the dwindling number of World War II and Korean War veterans to soldiers coming home now from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although there have been problems over the years with VAMCs and the quality of care they provide, including a recent scandal over hiding veterans’ inability to get timely doctor’s appointments at VAMCs, a concerted effort to improve that quality of care over the last couple of decades has yielded fruit so that today the quality of care in VA facilities compares favorably to the private sector. Unfortunately, like the private sector, the VA is also embracing alternative medicine in the form of CAM, or, as its proponents like to call it these days, “integrative medicine,” in order to put a happy label on the “integration” of pseudoscience and quackery with conventional medicine.
Of course, I (and others at SBM) have discussed the intrusion of woo into the military before. For instance, a post I wrote in SBM’s first year of existence discussed Col. (Dr.) Richard Niemtzow, a radiation oncologist by training but also one of the Department of Defense doctors trained as certified acupuncturists, and his advocacy for “battlefield acupuncture.” The form of acupuncture that Col. Niemtzow advocated was auricular acupuncture, which involves inserting tiny needles into the ear and leaving them there until they fall out. He even pioneered a program to train physicians in “battlefield acupuncture” and deploying them to combat zones. Not surprisingly, the evidence base cited in support of such a program was—how do I put this?—underwhelming, but that hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the idea and other alternative medicine in the military. Given that my last post on battlefield acupuncture was in 2009, I thought I’d take a look again at the infiltration of “integrative medicine,” including battlefield acupuncture, into the military and the VHA. Unfortunately, unlike Clay Jones’ satirical—or…is it?—piece about robotic acupuncture, this is no joke. It’s really happening.
The Supreme Court wisely rejected a cynical attempt to deny millions of women in Texas access to abortion, said the Center for Inquiry, praising the decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt as a win for objective science and women’s equality.
A 2013 Texas law placed onerous and unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers, which would have forced the closing of all but a handful of the state’s clinics, cutting off abortion access to millions of women, particularly minorities and those of low income. The plaintiffs in this case argued that these restrictions impose an undue burden on women’s right to end a pregnancy. The Supreme Court today ruled against the state, preserving constitutionally protected abortion access for the women of Texas.
CFI filed an amicus brief with the Court in January, which was cosigned by dozens of prominent scientists and public intellectuals including Steven Pinker, Carol Tavris, Eugenie Scott, Jill Tarter, Lawrence Krauss, and Richard Dawkins. The brief argued the evidence presented by the state of Texas was based on manufactured, unscientific information, coordinated by known anti-abortion ideologue Vincent Rue, a hyper-partisan with no medical qualifications and who has been cited for ghostwriting manufactured, pseudoscientific testimony for alleged expert witnesses in federal court.
Last week’s episode of the radio program Science for the People focused on meningitis and legal issues surrounding parents and standards of care. The podcast featured three members of The Maiden Lab, a multidisciplinary group working on understanding the biology of bacterial pathogens, including meningitis: Martin Maiden, Professor of Molecular Epidemiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford; Charlene Rodrigues, Wellcome Trust Clinical Doctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford; and Kanny Diallo, a Wellcome Trust Training Fellow working on her PhD at the University of Oxford, who studies ecology and molecular epidemiology in the African Meningitis Belt.
The program also brought on Nicholas Little, the Center for Inquiry’s Vice President and General Counsel, to discuss a recent court case involving the death of a young child from bacterial meningitis, and the parents who were charged with “failing to provide the necessities of life.”
Congressman Joe Kennedy III (MA-04) and Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, this week introduced legislation to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The “Do No Harm Act” would clarify that no one can seek religious exemption from laws guaranteeing fundamental civil and legal rights. It comes in response to continued efforts across the country to cite religious belief as grounds to undermine Civil Rights Act protections, limit access to healthcare, and refuse service to minority populations.
Specifically, the Do No Harm Act would limit the use of RFRA in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, access to health care, public accommodations, and social services provided through government contract.
We at the Center for Inquiry released a statement backing the introduction of this amendment:
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right that protects all Americans, but this freedom does not include the right to restrict or control the behavior of others,” said Nicholas Little, Vice-President and General Counsel for the Center for Inquiry. “At its inception, CFI was one of very few voices cautioning that RFRA would permit religiously motivated discrimination, whether against religious minorities, the non-religious, women, or LGBTQ Americans. Sadly, we were right. But this fix would help ensure that the law could no longer be used as a weapon to impose one person’s religious beliefs on other unwilling parties.”
“We thank Reps. Scott and Kennedy for taking a bold and important step today to protect the religious freedom and equal rights of all Americans,” said Michael De Dora CFI’s director of public policy. “Members of Congress should put aside their partisan differences and approve this fair-minded amendment. We look forward to working with our partners on Capitol Hill, including religious, non-religious, church-state, and civil rights groups, to move this important measure forward.”
You can read our full release here and other organizational statements of support here.
The American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch this week released reports that reveal that one in six hospital beds in the United States is in a facility that complies with Catholic Directives that prohibit a range of reproductive health care services even when a woman’s life or health is in jeopardy. In some states, more than 40 percent of all hospital beds are in a Catholic facility, leaving entire regions without any option for certain reproductive health care.
For the full ACLU report, which features testimony from medical experts and personal stories from women who were denied care at Catholic hospitals, visit: https://www.aclu.org/healthcaredenied
Jennifer Miller at Slate files a substantive report on the experiences of women who enrolled in an influential Christian counseling center, Mercy Ministries, for help. Unfortunately, that’s not what they found:
It was, and is, a place that treats the devil as something frighteningly real—the kind of approach that may work for many residents but overwhelms others with guilt and fear. In a larger sense, Mercy illustrates what happens when a hard-line, religiously oriented organization inserts itself into a gaping hole in the United States’ mental heath system. Because organizations like Mercy are barely subject to government oversight, it’s likely not an anomaly.
TheWashington Post reports on a heartbreaking story out of Florida:
Within minutes, a prominent death-with-dignity advocate was shot dead along with his ailing wife in an assisted living center in Florida.
Eighty-one-year-old Frank Kavanaugh — who served on the national advisory board for the Final Exit Network, an advocacy organization in the right-to-die debate — was discovered dead in the early morning hours Tuesday alongside his wife, 88-year-old Barbara Kavanaugh.
The couple was found at the Solaris HealthCare Charlotte Harbor center in Port Charlotte, Fla. Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Skip Conroy said the case is being investigated as a murder-suicide.
But those who knew the Kavanaughs said it may have been their only option.
“It was a rational suicide,” Final Exit Network President Janis Landis told The Washington Post. “Both of them made this decision. It was not murder.”
The Independent reports on a heartbreaking story out of Spain that could put renewed pressure on the alternative medicine industry in Spain:
A Spanish father has launched a court case against a homeopath he accuses of telling his son his cancer could be cured with “fungi and alcohol”.
Julián Rodríguez’s son, Mario Rodríguez, died after shunning conventional medical advice to treat his leukaemia in favour of alternative remedies.
The landmark case, which Julián hopes will result in stronger regulation on homeopathic practitioners, is expected to bring renewed pressure on Spain’s burgeoning alternative remedies industry.
The Provincial Court of Valencia, which initially dismissed Julián’s case, has now accepted it on the basis that José Ramón Llorente – who is not a medical doctor – should be held accountable for his claims that he could cure cancer, on the grounds of ‘professional intrusion’.
If convicted, Mr Llorente could face two years in prison, according to La Vanguardia.
CFI’s legal director Nick Little recently sat down for a 20-minute debate on Public Square regarding the Supreme Court case on Texas abortion access, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The full video has now been posted:
Nick Little, legal director of the Center for Inquiry, writes on the organization’s blog Free Thinking regarding what’s at stake in the Supreme Court case Zubik v. Burwell:
What this case involves is a claim by a series of religious nonprofits, personified in yesterday’s protests by the Little Sisters of the Poor (what, you want to take away a nun’s rights? For shame!), who deeply oppose any provision of contraception to their employees. Under the Affordable Care Act, all employers over a certain size must provide insurance to their employees, and that insurance must include all FDA approved methods of contraception, without copay. Recognizing the religious opposition to this, the government put in a pair of opt outs – religious groups such as churches could avoid this provision entirely; religious non-profits, such as the plaintiffs here, on the other hand, could sign a form, and mail it to the government, who would, in turn, require the insurance provider to provide this service to the employees.