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New England Journal of Medicine

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Texas’ Women’s Health, UT Study: Other than that*, the story was true.

*The authors of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine admit to a narrow focus that ignored the multiple methods of funding Family Planning in Texas,  looking instead at a single type of “provider” – Title X clinics like Planned Parenthood (“PP”) – and a single source of funding for a specific set of services: long-acting reversible contraceptives such as the IUD and implants and injectables.

Yet, in typical fashion, the reports about the study claim much more. For example, the Texas Tribune has an article out, “Texas disavows Controversial Women’s Health Study,”  about the political fallout due to the skewed conclusions of the authors and the even more skewed editorializing in the media.

While the NEJM article (free article!) states in the “Methods” section that,

“After the exclusion, the provision of injectable contraceptives fell sharply in counties with Planned Parenthood affiliates but not in counties without such affiliates; subsequently, the numbers of claims in both groups of counties remained relatively stable during the next 2 years. In contrast, the provision of short-acting hormonal methods changed little in the two groups of counties in the quarter after the exclusion and declined steadily thereafter.” (Emphasis mine. )

the Tribune article reports that in answer to criticism,

Joseph Potter, one of the UT researchers who co-authored the study, said in an email that the paper addressed the “specific question” of how the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program affected women. Nothing raised in Traylor’s letter, he said, contradicted the researchers’ conclusions.

“We made no claims about access to reproductive health care as a whole in Texas,” he said, and he stood by the finding that claims for long-acting contraceptives fell after Planned Parenthood was excluded from the women’s health program.

The law in question, SB7, was passed with bipartisan support in 2011, a year when Texas, along with State budgets all over the Nation were tight. Although family planning was cut, no specific vendor was “excluded” and PP was not even mentioned in the legislation. Only because PP did not offer continuing, comprehensive care, that business would effectively be cut out.

The Obama Administration took great offense at our State’s attempt to take care of the whole woman and refused all Family Planning Title X money for Texas Medicaid.

Instead, Obama intervened to specifically direct $13 Million of Title X funds to a private organization,the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas (“WHFP”) which funds only Title X clinics, almost all of which are now Planned Parenthood businesses), so no money was lost even at PP.

The State Health Services no longer managed those Medicaid matching dollars once allowed by a special Medicaid waiver. Instead, State funding for the Family Planning programs and the Texas Women’s Health Program, was replaced by State dollars and directed toward programs and doctors that offer continuing, comprehensive care, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), State, County and local clinics and hospitals, and fee for service doctors that participate with Medicaid. Women could be diagnosed and treated for a much broader spectrum of health problems and their families were welcome at the same clinics.

Senator Jane Nelson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and sponsor of the Bill, objects to the implication by the NEJM that the authors were writing on behalf of the State. In her letter to the Executive Commissioner of Texas’ Department of Health and Human Services, Chris Traynor, Senator Nelson noted,

“This study samples a narrow population within the Texas Women’s Health Program (TWHP) — which represented only 33 percent of the overall number of women enrolled in our women’s health programs in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. This ignores hundreds of thousands of women being served through the Expanded Primary Health Care Program; the Family Planning Program; and the 628,000 women of child-bearing age receiving full Medicaid benefits, 75 percent of which received contraceptive services in FY 14. Women often rotate in and out of our state programs, so we must look across our entire system to determine whether we are truly meeting their needs. Just because a claim for service was not submitted to TWHP does not mean a woman went without that service.
The study also creates an impression that fewer Texas women are accessing long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). That’s simply not true. Across our state programs, there were more claims for LARCs in FY 2014 than there were in FY 2012 when Planned Parenthood was still a provider.”

In other words, women with private insurance and women who never had access to PP had similar numbers.

And another thing: Potter, a sociologist at UTAustin and the co-author quoted above, was the one who told the LA Times that,  “It’s not like there is a large, over-capacity of highly qualified providers of effective contraception out there just waiting for people to show up.”

On behalf of Texas’ Family Physicians, OB/Gyns, Pediatricians and Internists who accept traditional Medicaid and who had been unable to access the money in those competitive Title X grants awarded to PP, I’d like to inform him that yes, we have been waiting – for a chance to offer our patients this care.

But other than that ….

“Duty” to use human tissue?

Robbins smoking fetal researchWe should at least have as much care for the donation of tissue from aborted human fetuses and embryos as we do for the donation of organs from those killed by capital punishment. Both scenarios involve purposeful intervention to cause death and the collection of tissues, at least, must be carried out by licensed and regulated medical personnel.

Robin Alta Charo (a law and ethics professor at the University of Wisconsin) has an opinion piece in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, “Fetal Tissue Fallout.” in which she claims that society has a “duty” to use tissues harvested after elective, intentional abortions.

I object to the idea that society has a “duty” to make use of the end products of either procedure. Both scenarios involve purposeful intervention to cause death by licensed and regulated medical personnel, making those of us who vote for the legislators who write laws complicit in the actions, at least remotely. Under a strict philosophy of ethics based on the protection of inalienable rights, each act should be weighed individually and should only be carried out when the one killed is a proven danger to the life or lives of others.

Robin justifies her elevation of the use of fetal tissues after elective abortion to that of a “duty” by citing past benefits of research using fetal tissues. She is more political and names past Republican supporters in an earlier op-ed, published in the Washington Post on August 4th.

Yes, society has benefited from these tissues.  However,  that picture at the side of this post depicts Dr. Frederick Robbins, one of the scientists who utilized fetal tissue in the 1950’s development of the Salk polio vaccine. Dr. Robbins is depicted smoking at work in the laboratory, while handling test tubes without gloves. We know better than that, now.  Isn’t it time that science and medicine researchers catch up with our knowledge that the human fetus is a human being from the moment of fertilization?

Where are the Ethics Review Boards that monitor for the unethical behavior we’re hearing about in the videos from the Center for Medical Progress?

In 2013, the science journal, Nature, published an article covering the history and evolution of informed consent and compensation for donors of human tissues, including the fetal tissue culture, WI-28.  Ms. Charo was quoted as supporting monetary compensation:

But, says Charo, “if we continue to debate it entirely in legal terms, it feels like we’re missing the emotional centre of the story”. It could be argued, she says, “that if somebody else is making a fortune off of this, they ought to share the wealth. It’s not a legal judgment. It’s a judgement about morality.”

Yes, “It’s not a legal judgment. It’s a judgement about morality.”

NEJM “I want” ethics

In the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis notes that, “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine published a “Perspectives” column, “Life or Death for the Dead Donor’s Rule?,” in which the authors  illustrate Lewis’ point with their redefinition of non-maleficence to better serve a re-defined autonomy.

They would convince us that there is no harm in hastening the death of a dying patient even by intentionally causing it if he or his surrogates ask. They ignore a 2500 year old First Principle of Medical ethics,focused on the health of the patient in front of us: “Cure when possible, but first do no harm, ”

Autonomy, like all rights, is a negative right: the patient has the right to refuse invasive medical interventions that will harm him or that he does not want. Patients and surrogates, if they can compel the use of medical skills and invasive technology, can only do so for the medical benefit of the patient himself.

Illogically, in these times of reducing costs, the authors would have us consider taking a patient from the ICU to the OR “and then take him back to where life support would be withdrawn.” The return to the ICU is nothing but our own “medical charade.”

 

The Abolition of Man can be read online, here, or you can buy the Kindle version at Amazon.com.

I want to thank Nancy Valko, who runs an email list covering a range of traditional ethics issues, her email alerting me to this editorial.

You decide: Physician-Assisted Suicide — NEJM

You can comment, let the New England Journal of Medicine editors and the world know your thoughts.

Do you believe that Mr. Wallace should be able to receive life-terminating drugs from his physician? Which one of the following approaches to the broader issue do you find appropriate? Base your choice on the published literature, your own experience, and other sources of information.

To aid in your decision making, each of these approaches is defended in the following short essays by experts in the field. Given your knowledge of the patient and the points made by the experts, which option would you choose? Make your choice and offer your comments at NEJM.org.

via Physician-Assisted Suicide — NEJM.

My opinion is that poisoning Mr. Wallace, or writing the prescription so that he can attempt to intentionally commit suicide, is a direct infringement of Mr. Wallace’s inalienable right not to be killed.

New England Journal of Medicine: “The Health Care Jobs Fallacy”

Attempts to justify increasing intrusion of the Federal government into health insurance and health cost distract from the purpose of the practice of medicine, which is to treat patients.

Remember when doctors talked about “medical care” of individuals, not “health care” for populations?Remember when medicine was an “art,” not an “industry?” People aren’t machines with interchangeable parts and neither medicine nor “health care” are amenable to assembly line production, except in very rare instances.

The bottom line is that employment in the health care sector should be neither a policy goal nor a metric of success. The key policy goals should be to achieve better health outcomes and increase overall economic productivity, so that we can all live healthier and wealthier lives. Our ability to ensure access to expensive but beneficial treatment is hampered whenever health care policy is evaluated on the basis of jobs. Treating the health care system like a (wildly inefficient) jobs program conflicts directly with the goal of ensuring that all Americans have access to care at an affordable price.

via The Health Care Jobs Fallacy — NEJM.

First Amendment on Life Support

“More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man’s religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” John Madison, “Property,” National Gazette, March 29, 1792.

“In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.” Hippocratic Oath, approximately 400 BC.

“Refusals based on moral disapprobation, however, are not typical of medical ethics” R. Alta Charo, ”Health Care Provider Refusals to Treat, Prescribe, Refer or Inform: Professionalism and Conscience.” February, 2007.

Fully enjoying the protections of the First Amendment themselves, the New England Journal of Medicine has published yet another editorial, “Warning: Contraceptive Drugs May Cause Political Headaches,”  by Robin Alta Charo, J.D., denouncing conscience and those of us who abide by ours. I suppose that she thought it was the right thing to do.

The Journal does not offer background on Ms. Charo’s previous editorials on the subject, including the notorious 2005 “The Celestial Fire of Conscience.” The editors don’t include any  note – any “warning’ – that she was part of the political Obama transition team. Ms. Charo did not mention any of these possible conflicts of interest in her “disclosure form,” available online.

Charo’s entire argument relies on readers’ agreement that the argument is about “public policy and contraception.” It is vital to her argument since, as she quotes Georgetown University theologian Tom Reese, “If the argument is over religious liberty, the bishops win.” Because, if we understand that the issue relates to “an establishment of religion,” Congress cannot legitimately pass, and the Executive Branch may not enforce, any law that infringes on the free exercise of religion.

Charo would instead have us focus on “public institutions, public places, and public duties.” Although hospitals and universities serve the public by providing healthcare and education, they are still owned by private, religious entities. In addition, the Obama Administration’s “accommodation” – the suggestion that the institution’s insurance company provide contraception free of charge to the ensured who want it – becomes much more complicated in light of the fact that most large religious hospitals and universities privately self-insure rather than enter into the market to buy first dollar coverage from a third party insurance company.

Charo’s essay is political appeal to emotion and half-truths, full of the “partisan sound bites and slogans” she denounces. However, not even the lie about mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds compares with her earlier error of logic in warning that the institutions could withhold “ordinary salary.” I don’t know of any religious organization that considers agreed-upon salary for agreed-upon service as inherently sinful. Keeping a promise, like that in the First Amendment or a contract with an employee is sacred to those of us with a conscience.

The Constitution demands that Congress “shall make no law” limiting religious freedom. The attempt by the Obama Administration to write regulations that require religious institutions to engage in acts that are contrary to long-standing, organized tenets of that religion goes directly against the First Amendment and cannot be justified.

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