Category Archives: Medicine & Pseudo-Medicine
When my son was a baby, I took him to an abortion rights rally, his—and my—first public demonstration. With rosy cheeks and golden curls, he was the cutest protestor at the Utah State Capitol. As a new mom, I was struck every day with how marvelous it was to be a parent, to drink in every laugh and coo and smile, to adore and protect such a wonder. I was fortunate to have been ready and able to take care of an infant when Matt was born–and I knew it. Shouldn’t every baby be a loved and wanted baby? How could that happen if women couldn’t make their own reproductive choices?
Utah legislators were debating a bill that would make most abortion illegal, and I was appalled at their arrogance. Who were they to make decisions about who could have babies and when? Of course, Utah went on to pass what was at the time the most restrictive abortion law in the country, prohibiting nearly all elective abortions and making performing abortions a Class III felony. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1992, but in the following two decades, Utah and other conservative states would develop creative strategies that simply reduce access by requiring waiting periods, mandatory counseling and invasive exams, and regulations that effectively shut down clinics. In just the last three years there have been over 200 state-level restrictions on access to abortion. That’s all state moralizing with a lot of religious intrusion. But the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing Hobby Lobby to evade health insurance coverage of some forms of birth control added an infuriating new twist to abortion politics: a legal decision that refutes science in favor of unsubstantiated beliefs.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties argued that the Affordable Care Act provision that employers provide their employees with health insurance coverage for contraception violated their religious beliefs. Specifically, they believe that four types of contraception are abortifacients, and that requiring the companies to pay for coverage of these contraceptive methods presented a substantial burden by forcing them to violate their “deeply held religious beliefs.” They believe that any contraceptive method that may result in the loss of a fertilized egg is a form of abortion and thus forbidden by their faith, that birth control pills or intrauterine devices that prevent an egg from implanting in a uterus are abortion agents.
Neither science nor the legal or medical definition of abortion support this view. Abortion terminates a pregnancy. A fertilized egg, whether it’s in a Petri dish or a Fallopian tube, is not a pregnancy. You can believe it’s a pregnancy or a child or a cucumber, but that doesn’t make it one. And yet, five Supreme Court justices waltzed right by that fact to rule in favor of belief and science denial and against the health care needs of women. It may not sound as absurd as Representative Todd Akin’s declaration that a woman can’t get pregnant during a “legitimate rape,” and it’s not the only time science has been flouted in reproductive health policy, but the Hobby Lobby case sets a frightening precedent that science doesn’t matter. What it means is that women don’t matter and neither do babies.
Are you a scientist? During last week’s commencement address, President Barack Obama derided Republicans who demure “I’m not a scientist” as they deny climate change. “I’m not a scientist either,” the President confessed, “but we’ve got some good ones at NASA,” and apparently their overwhelming agreement that climate change is occurring, anthropogenic, and alarming is convincing enough for him. It’s not for climate deniers, of course, and POTUS is hardly alone in his contempt for those who dismiss the scientific evidence of climate change. And the climate deniers are often the same folks who question evolution and think school curriculum ought to include creationism, which seems an awful lot like saying we should teach kids the world is flat. Who wouldn’t disdain such backwards, destructive thinking? And yet.
Thanks to science, medicine, and the socialist horror that is Obamacare, or, as I like to call it, the Affordable Care Act, my co-publisher and husband, Mark Bailey, got a shiny new hip yesterday. Because of Big Pharma and those cut- and pill-happy doctors, Mark got a groovy metal joint with only minimal anesthesia, and walked down a hall on it a mere six hours after surgery. He had the same procedure on his other hip five years ago, but this time he gets to benefit from some pharmaceutical breakthroughs and improved best practices. After decades as the go-to post-operative blood-thinner, coumadin is stepping aside for a new generation of drugs that require no monitoring or diet restrictions. Decades and dollars of research means Mark will take the super-cool Xarelto every day for three weeks, eating all the spinach salads he’d like, and since he won’t need to have any home health visits to check his blood, we’ll probably head to Torrey sometime next week for some desert convalescing. New evidence has shown that some of the strict movement restrictions he had to observe five years ago don’t improve outcomes, so we won’t need to freak out if he bends his leg beyond 90 degrees when he gets out of a chair or a car. These improvements in care don’t happen by themselves; they happen because of SCIENCE: developing and testing a research question by gathering data and analyzing it to produce evidence. Brilliant.
So who, besides those heads-in-the-sand climate deniers, could possibly eschew the life- and limb-saving evidence brought to you by SCIENCE? Only right wing nuts are closed-minded enough to reject SCIENCE. And yet…My local Whole Foods has an entire “pharmacy” section full of pseudo-medicine: pills, powders, and potions that are devoid of evidence of safety or efficacy. If you need, say, pain or allergy relief, you can forget about finding real over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or loratadine (Claritin), drugs that though easily available have been scientifically proven to work. Of course, you’ll also find just what you don’t need even if you’re not suffering from an illness or medical condition. With enticing labeling and Big Organic marketing power, Whole Foods has convinced millions of otherwise reasonable and educated people that “organic” means healthier and “gluten free” means good for them despite the utter lack of evidence or whether or not they are among the up to two percent of the population with celiac disease or the up to six percent who have an actual allergy or sensitivity to the ubiquitous, harmless, and deliciousness-making protein. And feeling relief at finding a store full of GMO-free foods, really means relieving oneself of understanding what GMO means (altering a genome using genetic engineering techniques rather than cross-breeding plants or animals, which is the genome altering we have been doing for 10,000 years), what the benefits are (say, alleviating blindness and death due to vitamin A deficiency in the developing world), and what the health risks are (none).
Of course, shopping at Whole Foods seems a harmless albeit expensive privilege, as demonstrated in this short, astute clip: No victim here but the happy willing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UFc1pr2yUU And yet…The clamor for Whole Foods chic, for what is considered “natural,” helps fuel baseless, expensive taxpayer-funded research into useless treatments, which often result in people foregoing or postponing real medicine in favor of woo. Though his early death was unquestionably tragic, Steve Jobs actually won the pancreatic cancer lottery when he was diagnosed with a rare form with a high cure rate. But he rejected prompt medical treatment in favor of veganism and supplements until his cancer was advanced and deadly. In far too many states, measles and pertussis (whooping cough) are making horrible comebacks as people avoid a perceived though unfounded threat, thanks in part to arguments that really reduce to this:
Whole Foods, beloved of upper-income lefties across the country, promotes science denying, flat-earth thinking that betrays the privilege of its customers and only faintly separates them from the science deniers they condemn. Unless the moon landing really was a hoax, the word’s not benefiting from either flat-earth camp.