Category Archives: News

What’s Really at Stake in Zubik: “They Want to Prevent Contraception”

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.

Read the entire post here.

Over Half Of Measles Cases In U.S. Outbreaks Are Unvaccinated — Often Intentionally

The Journal of the American Medical Association has found that most of the people who didn’t get vaccinated and then got measles last year had refused those vaccinations, reports Tara Haelle of Forbes:

Even though measles was eliminated from the U.S.—meaning the disease no longer circulated on its own within U.S. borders—16 years ago, outbreaks have continued to result from occasionally imported cases. But the disease can only spread if enough people are not vaccinated against it—and that’s precisely why the U.S. has seen an increase in measles outbreaks. In fact, well over half of people who have caught measles in the past decade and a half were unvaccinated, and most of them had refused the measles vaccine, found a recent study in JAMA.

Read the full article here.

Action Alert: Tell NY State Lawmakers: End Faith-Based Vaccine Exemptions

An action alert from the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy:

New York State Senator Brad Holyman (D-27) and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-81) have introduced two bills, S6017 and A8329, that would finally end dangerous and unnecessary non-medical religious vaccine exemptions. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) strongly supports these measures and urges you to tell your state lawmakers to do the same.

You can take action here.

Study: Homeopathic Treatments Useful for None of 61 Illnesses Researched

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recently released a review of 176 studies on homeopathic treatments for 61 illnesses, concluding that homeopathy “should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious.”

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The study was threefold: first, it included an overview of published reviews by an outside, independent contractor; next, it did an independent evaluation of “information provided by homeopathy interest groups and the public”; last, it considered clinical practice guidelines, and how official international governments view homeopathy.

The result? Unsurprising.

“There was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered: no…studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment,” the official statement reads. “For some health conditions, studies reported that homeopathy was not more effective than placebo.”

Keep reading here.

Effort to Legalize Assisted Suicide Fails in Maryland Senate

The Washington Post reports that a year-long push to make Maryland the sixth state in the country where physician-assisted suicide is legal has failed:

Sen. Ronald Young (D-Frederick) told reporters that he decided to withdraw the legislation after concluding it did not have the votes to pass out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. A vote had been scheduled for Thursday.

The bill — which would have allowed doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to patients believed to have less than six months to live — needed six votes to move out of committee and come before the full Senate. It was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and advocates for the disabled.

“Had I thought it still had a chance I would have let it go,” Young said. “But I got word that it wasn’t going to pass.”

You can read the full article here.

Cancer ‘Visionary’ Stanislaw Burzynski Stands Trial for Unprecedented Medical Malfeasance

Writing for Newsweek, Tamar Wilner covers the ongoing trial of Stanislaw Burzynski:

As a young doctor in the 1970s, Burzynski began treating patients with antineoplastons, a collection of peptides, amino acids and amino acid derivatives he originally isolated from blood and urine. Since then, by his reckoning, he’s used the drugs to treat over 2,300 cancer patients—though he isn’t trained as an oncologist. He’s been the subject of laudatory documentaries and promoted by the likes of Dr. Mehmet Oz, the famous surgeon and TV personality, and Suzanne Somers, the actress-turned-naturopathic-medicine-advocate. “No one has worked harder, and no one has been more persecuted for his maverick approach,” Somers wrote in her book Knockout: Interviews With Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer.

But there’s no verifiable evidence antineoplastons work. Nor are they the gentle treatment Burzynski claims them to be. He has run Food and Drug Administration–approved clinical trials on the drugs since the 1990s, during which time at least six study participants died from hypernatremia, or high levels of sodium in the blood—likely due to the sodium-rich antineoplastons. Among the victims was a 6-year-old boy.

Over the years, Burzynski has been the subject of numerous investigations and legal proceedings, brought by grand juries, the FDA and the Texas Medical Board. As it’s become more difficult to continue registering his patients in antineoplaston trials, Burzynski has treated patients in other ways, still outside the medical mainstream. He uses chemotherapy drugs in combinations that have not been scientifically tested—and whose toxicities, according to the medical board, pose an unwarranted threat to patients.

Now the Texas Medical Board has brought yet another case against Burzynski, seeking to revoke his license. As the hearing got underway in Austin in November, some of the doctor’s former patients and admirers gathered to support him and to protest with placards. “I am a naturalist, and I believe that the body can be healed without the use of burning, cutting and poisoning it,” said one woman, whose sister died of lung cancer. “I am for whoever is trying to do their part in saving people from having to go through pain.”

You can read about the Center for Inquiry’s work on this issue here.

Articles Explore Debate on Science Denialism

Two interesting articles have been written in the past several weeks regarding the refusal by some people to accept the benefits of vaccines and other accepted scientific realities.

Robin Lloyd at Scientific American thinks the “war on science” meme doesn’t quite fit when we’re talking about people who are just scared of things beyond their control:

For several years now the popular media has run headlines about “a war on science.” Reporters note that federal funding for research is down, campaigns to undermine climate science attract hundreds of millions of dollars and politicians routinely reject findings that are uniformly accepted by scientists. But a panel of scholars last weekend argued for the most part against calling these aversive movements a war, with two historians even scolding scientists who embrace the idea as out of touch with public concerns.

Keep reading here.

Meanwhile, Maggie Koerth-Baker at Aeon sees the “rationality” of a parent who just wants to protect their kid from what they see as dangerous vaccines, even at the expense of other people:

I don’t think experts intend to ignore what the debate over vaccines is really about. They care deeply about the public health implications of vaccine refusal. They’re worried about the health of their individual patients. But they personally think the trade-off between the small risks of side effects and the big benefit of herd immunity is a fair one. They decided this long ago, and that belief is built into every aspect of their work. For a lot of them – a lot of us, if I’m honest – it’s easy to forget that our perspective on the trade-off is a belief, and not a provable fact. We are uncomfortable with the idea that opinions on scientific topics could be influenced by philosophy, politics and other things that aren’t easily quantifiable.

That’s not surprising. But it is something that has to be acknowledged. If we don’t do that, we can’t ever resolve the conflict.

Keep reading here.

Laws Limiting Vaccine Exemptions Work

Over at Science-Based Medicine, Steve Novella has posted an essay exploring the effectiveness of laws restricting exemptions for vaccinations:

It’s nice when a question can be resolved with objective numbers of unequivocal outcomes. Subjective outcomes give scientists a headache.

In this case we are talking about the effect of vaccine exemption laws on vaccine compliance rates. The question here is not the ethical one, the rights of parents to determine the fate of their children vs the right of the state to protect the health of children and the public health. I think the latter trumps the former, but some disagree.

Regardless of what you feel about the ethical question, we need to know if the laws we pass to achieve our goals actually work, or if they don’t work, or even have unintended consequences. Having an admirable goal is not enough; when you make actual decisions (practice decisions, policy decisions, healthcare decisions for you and for family) you want to know that those decisions are having the desired effect.

We recently had another opportunity to test the effect of vaccine exemption laws, with California law SB 277 making it more difficult for parents to obtain vaccine exemption.

You can keep reading here.

The Miseducation of California Nurses: Legal Loophole Enables Spread of Anti-Choice Medical Myths

Nicole Knight Shine of Reproductive Health Reality Check reports:

In a St. Louis high-rise hotel last April, health-care workers filed into a conference room to learn about the myth of undoing a pill-induced abortion, also called abortion pill reversal. The workshop, hosted by the anti-choice giant Heartbeat International, promised nurses in attendance that they could earn continuing education credits from a state some 1,700 miles away: California.

Missing from the conference materials was any disclosure saying that the medical establishment, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), rejects the so-called science behind abortion pill reversal. Instead, Heartbeat International displayed the medical imprimatur of the Golden State: “Provider approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing, Provider Number CEP 16061 for 1.25 contact hours for each workshop.”

How has Heartbeat International, along with other anti-choice organizations, co-opted a narrow area of health-care law in one of the country’s most progressive states? The answer exposes regulatory holes in the post-graduate education of California nurses.

Keep reading here.

My Right to Die: Assisted Suicide, My Family, and Me

Kevin Drum, writer for the website and magazine Mother Jones, has penned an excellent article for the January /February 2016 issue on physician assisted dying which has been posted online:

EVERY STORY HAS A BEGINNING. This one starts in late 2001, when my father-in-law fractured three of his ribs. Harry was a retired physician, and after a thorough workup that he insisted on, it turned out that his bone density was severely compromised for no immediately apparent reason. Further tests eventually revealed the cause: He had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

Harry’s cancer was caught early, and it progressed slowly. By 2007, however, it had taken over his body. When my wife saw him in early 2008, she remarked that he looked like someone in a lot of pain but trying not to show it—despite the fact that he was taking oxycodone, a powerful opiate.

During a career that lasted more than three decades, he had watched all too many of his patients struggle with their final months, and this experience had persuaded him that he would take his own life if he found himself dying of an agonizing and clearly terminal illness. Now he was. Finally, on the evening of January 29, he stumbled and fell during the night, and decided his time had come: He was afraid if he delayed any longer he’d become physically unable to remain in control of his own destiny.

This was important. Since Harry lived in California, where assisted suicide was illegal, he had to be able to take his life without help. Because of this, he initially intended not to tell either of his daughters about his decision. He wanted to run absolutely no risk that merely by being with him in his final moments, or even knowing of his plans, they’d be held responsible for his death.

Luckily, neither my wife nor her sister had to learn of their father’s death via a call from the morgue. A friend persuaded him to call both of them, and on January 30 we all drove out to Palm Springs to say our last goodbyes. After that, Harry wrote a note explaining that he was about to take his own life and that no one else had provided any assistance. It was time. He categorically forbade any of us from so much as taking his arm. He walked into his bedroom, put a plastic bag over his head, and opened up a tank of helium. A few minutes later he was dead.

You can read the full article here.