Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stop that Bug!

Colleague and WBP supporter Art Caplan explains that the 1918 offers some lessons for us today and that all of us have a responsibility to keep swine flu from spreading:

When faced with the threat of disease, the impulse of most Americans is to think about medical technology and miracle drugs. These are not likely to be much help in the battle against swine flu — but the history books might.

As history has proven, the best way to halt a deadly virus is to keep infected people away from others. In 1918, an influenza pandemic caused by a strain of flu similar to the one identified in Mexico killed more people than died in all of World War I. Up to 50 million people died worldwide. The greatest number of deaths occurred among young adults between the ages of 15 and 35.

At the time, young American men were being mustered into military camps from all corners of the country to prepare for the war. A few brought to those cramped quarters a new strain of flu. They quickly infected one another at an astonishing rate. As they were ordered to ship out, the epidemic spread along the train lines they used, with the flu jumping into the civilian population at every stop, right up to the harbors and port cities where they departed. Many experts think the flu followed these troops on their convoys into Europe, causing millions more to die.

We risk making that same fatal mistake this time around.

The Obama administration has developed plans to send National Guard troops from all over the U.S. to the Mexican border to help contain the violence from the bloody drug war raging there. I hope that by now the White House has realized this is a really, really bad idea. Sending the Guard right now to battle drug war lords could accelerate the spread of the swine flu among a high-risk group while giving the virus a free pass to travel all over the United States as the troops rotate home.

The 1918 pandemic offers additional stark lessons. While an effective vaccine may be found against this rare strain of swine flu, it will take many months to produce in large amounts. The best weapons we have right now are not glamorous and have little to do with doctors, drugs and hospitals: They are isolation, hygiene and controlling large gatherings of people.

New Zealand just quarantined a group of students who had flown back from Mexico. We may need to do the same thing.

Americans are not used to giving up individual liberty in the name of the common good. But that attitude is exactly what diseases such as the swine flu virus thrive on.

Heading out to church, the movies, restaurants, subways, supermarkets, day care centers, schools and other places where large numbers of people gather is a recipe for spreading the virus. What if infected people and those who have close contact with them won’t stay home? What if people with symptoms slog in to work anyway? Will we intrude on their basic rights and make them stay home? Are we willing to cancel public events and close schools, museums and churches until the infection passes, no matter how loud the protests?

Good hygiene — washing your hands frequently; wearing a filtering mask; keeping doorknobs and surfaces clean; being careful about sneezing, spitting and coughing — is helpful in controlling the spread of nearly all infectious diseases, swine flu included.

Each of us needs to take responsibility for stopping the spread of the flu.

What the nation needs is not to send an army to sit in the path of a deadly virus. Instead, we need to prepare for a short period of time when individual rights to go where we want, spend time with who we want and assemble as we want yield to the necessity of protecting the common good.

Reprinted from MSNBC website, original article can be found here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Handmaid's Tale - Revisited

Just in time for Mother’s Day (May 10th this year - mark your calendars!), the Women’s Bioethics Project Book Club has released its next selection: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Download the book club kit developed by WBP advisory board member Sue Trinidad and join us as we explore the bioethical implications of commercial surrogacy, the role of genetic relatedness, redefining concepts of motherhood and the commodification of women's bodies.

Read and discuss with your Mom, your daughters, and friends – let us know what you think – join the conversation!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Panayiotis Zavos: I've Cloned a Human!

Whether the news stories on Panayiotis Zavos’ latest efforts to clone a human embryo are a hoax or not, there is no doubt that a tremendous amount of scientific progress has been made since the 1997 announcement that a sheep had been successfully cloned; cloned primates and pets and the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells and human-nonhuman chimeras are just a few of the scientific discoveries that get us closer everyday to the prospect of a cloned human being. The ability to radically alter human reproduction raises fundamental questions regarding the nature of our humanity and the character of our society.

Thousands of scientists, scholars, journalists, religious leaders, and policy makers have debated and discussed the ethical implications of a wide range of reproductive technologies, citing ethical concerns from safety, kinship disruption, and the commoditization of reproduction to concern for genetic diversity and the threat of eugenic application. While the benefits of many reproductive technologies – genetic testing, therapeutic cloning, genetic germline modification, and chimeric modeling, to name a few – are still being debated, reproductive cloning is nearly universally opposed. Most believe it currently poses unacceptable safety risks.

The opposition to reproductive cloning has led to a growing effort to ban the practice at a state, national, and international level. All this activity led us to consider the question: Is there a consistent theme in the ethical language used to justify banning reproductive cloning? Does the language reflect the moral values and common goals of the world community or does it unwittingly set the stage to undermine procreative liberty and scientific progress by appealing to vague ethical principles that serve a broader political agenda?

Before we support a worldwide ban on cloning, we need to carefully examine the ethical language used and be sure it reflects the common good. We must watch carefully as human dignity is employed to ban human reproductive cloning, for it can set the stage for banning other reproductive technologies such as IVF, genetic testing and genetic modification as well as therapeutic cloning.

You can read our full analysis here.

Poor justice for the innocent

Living a Life Sentence
Kelly Cobiella
CBS Sunday Morning
April 19, 2009

Anything can happen to anyone at anytime and good things do not always happen to good people. One of the worst nightmares that can happen in a person’s life is to be falsely imprisoned and, even worse, executed. But this recurring nightmare has been experienced by thousands of people through the years. Some spend the remainder of their lives in prison, never returning to the life they once knew. Thanks to the breakthrough of DNA evidence, many have been fortunate to be exonerated of rape and murder charges after years and even decades behind bars. Others are freed as a result of determined sleuth work on the part of supporters or loved ones, people recanting original testimonies, suppressed evidence being revealed, or the surfacing of new evidence. Whatever the circumstances of their release, all of the newly freed face the same challenges of reintegrating into society.

After the initial elation of finally achieving the dream of freedom, reality is a real slap in the face for the newly exonerated. While decades passed, society moved on, technology advanced, and life slipped away. Homes were lost, careers destroyed, families broken up, insurance coverage stripped away, and children grew up. Release brings a new beginning for the wrongfully accused, with a prison record on their resumes. Many were imprisoned based on little or no evidence. In some cases, evidence was suppressed by police or prosecutors, physical evidence planted by police, other evidence manufactured by forensic scientists, and lying witnesses knowingly placed on the stand by prosecutors, all for the purpose of getting a conviction, whether to advance a career or for political or other reasons.

Beverly Monroe was 55, with a successful career as a chemist, when she was convicted of murdering her companion, Roger de la Burde, in 1992, even though police thought it was a likely suicide. There was no other evidence against Beverly but the prosecutor withheld this crucial information during her trial. Beverly’s daughter, Kate, was just starting her career as a lawyer and she quit her job to devote the next six years to freeing her mother, which she was able to do in 1999 based on the suppressed evidence. Beverly is now 62 and trying to piece her life together. Although potential employers have been sympathetic to her story, her prison record remains, and she has only been able to find a job as an administrative assistant with no benefits, a stark contrast to the success she had enjoyed before her conviction.

Following her mother’s release from prison, Kate Monroe moved to Utah to work as executive director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project, which has worked to pass a compensation law to aid the wrongfully convicted upon their release from prison. The law, which was passed in 2008, awards about $35,000 for each year of false imprisonment up to 15 years, and expunges the person’s criminal record. Only 25 states have such a program. Virginia, where Beverly Monroe lives, is not one of them. Another group called the Innocence Project has helped free 235 people with DNA evidence; 17 of them were on death row. The Innocence Project also works to reform the criminal justice system in order to prevent recurrences of such stories, many of which are far worse than Beverly Monroe's.

It’s true that mistakes can happen. But it’s hard to imagine the sheer powerlessness and devastating bitterness one must feel at the hands of someone who deliberately steals your life from you for personal gain. We never hear the names of the prosecutors or police officers who tamper with evidence or suppress information. There must be a law that is protecting them. We need laws that provide accountability for such misconduct. Or maybe we have them but the victims simply don’t have the fight left in them or the resources to engage in another battle. Or maybe they’re just grateful to be free. It seems that there is a conspiracy of silence regarding this issue. It is fair that victims of the justice system should be compensated and their records expunged in the case of wrongful incarceration. State governments should all adopt laws similar to the one passed in Utah and I further propose that resources should be allocated to psychological counseling and job counseling, as well as job placement and other services to ease the transition from prison to society. It wouldn’t give back the lost years but it would help to make the remaining ones better.

What is happiness, really?

I recently purchased a book titled, The Geography of Bliss, in which the author, who spent 10 years as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio visiting some of the unhappiest places on earth, decided to visit some of the happiest. There is actually a map of the happiest and unhappiest places on earth. Denmark has topped the charts for the past 30 years as the happiest country on earth. The United States is currently ranked number 17 out of 95, up from 23 in 2006 (Zimbabwe and Moldova ranked at the bottom), and number 97 out of 140 in peacefulness.

We as Americans believe that we have such a high standard of living. We have convinced ourselves, rightly so, that we are the greatest nation on earth, but we have so much to learn from other countries that appear to have so much less, yet are ranked higher in happiness. People in other countries have enough. We have excess everywhere we turn: extremes of wealth and poverty, consumerism, obesity, you name it.

I think that our American need to be the best and have the most has created a very unhealthy lifestyle, especially in areas like the Northeast. We spend too many hours working and driving and too little time relating, exercising, and enjoying ourselves. Parents compensate for being absent by spending guilt money on their children. More and more stuff and less and less quality time is the name of the game. We have also lost the fine art of conversation. People don’t have anything to talk about except who worked more hours than whom (which often turns into a p*ssing contest), what they bought, and everyplace they had to drive the kids to. People don’t talk about books they’ve read, or a meal at a special restaurant that they enjoyed, or the beauty of a sunset at their vacation island.

I had a conversation yesterday with a lovely man from Columbia. He described life in his town, where people dress up in the evening to go for a stroll through the square, the streets are closed off for walking on the weekend, and people don’t have a whole lot of money, but seem to really enjoy themselves and their relationships. And they are much healthier. I find that this is sadly lacking in our American lifestyle. People really do have a lot but no one seems to be enjoying any of it very much. Stress levels are very high and satisfaction is low.

But I think the authors might be confusing satisfaction and contentment with happiness. Morley Safer of 60 Minutes did a segment on Danish happiness in 2008 to find out why the Danes are so happy. A Danish research team concluded that, although the Danes do a lot of complaining, they have modest expectations; therefore, they are rarely disappointed. I lived in Denmark for 13 months from 1978-1979 and I can tell you that my stay there was one of the happiest times in my life. As a people the Danes have a very high self-esteem that borders on arrogance. They are very outspoken and not at all politically correct. But they sure are a lot of fun to hang out with. I recently asked a Danish friend what he thought of the researchers’ finding and he told me that, because of their social welfare system, “I know that whatever happens, I cannot fail.”

My friend’s statement pinpointed the contrast between life in the US, which can be one long adrenaline rush, and life in some of the happier, safer places on earth. People come to the United States for challenge, excitement, and the chance for a new life. It’s a crap shoot. We fight for our survival everyday here because failure can put us out in the street, as we have seen with our recent economic crisis. But that is also what makes us so creative, innovative, and competitive. We have to be—it really is a matter of survival.

But our failure right now can be a good thing. I think we have traded our health and happiness for having more stuff. This economic crisis is forcing young people in their 20s to move back home. It’s not the ideal, but families are getting closer. For the first time in decades, people are saving more, buying less. Everyone is getting more conscious of the environment now, too. We are resetting our values. I think this will all lead to healthier lifestyles in general. People are switching to new careers and learning new skills that they never would have considered before. I think we as Americans can adopt a healthier lifestyle, maybe tone it down a bit, but I don’t think we can ever be the happiest nation on earth—that would mean that we have stopped searching, exploring, daring, taking chances. Innovators and dreamers are never satisfied or content, and that is what we are. But we can be healthier while we are pursuing our bliss and that is something that we can achieve.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The latest on designer children...

From the Onion (no further comment needed :>) :

Disney Lab Unveils Its Latest Line Of Genetically Engineered Child Stars

Twitter Women’s Bioethics Project News

You can now follow the latest updates on the issues, programs, and priorities of the Women’s Bioethics Project, a public policy think tank based in Seattle, by adding khinsch to your Twitter list. Join the conversation!

Recent Twitter updates:
Welcome Margaret Lane, JD, the newest member of the Women’s Bioethics Project Advisory Board. Read her bio here.

Eggs for sale, wombs for rent, vaginas by the hour. Commodification a good thing? Scholar Heather Widdows says no. Find out why.

Bad Doc, Greedy Doc? Is it ethical for Physicians to add cosmetic procedures to their core practice?

Gregory Stock is probably right: to upgrade is human. Check out his TedTalk on how biotech will drive evolution.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Memory Erasing/Enhancing: the possibilities

A recent New York Times article asks: What would your life be like if you could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain? Imagine being made to forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, or even a bad habit. This notion seems like a cheesy Sci-Fi movie; however researchers are on the verge of making memory erasing a reality.

Dr. Todd C. Sacktor and his team of scientists from SUNY Downstate Medical Center have been able to show how a single dose of an experimental drug can, in animals, block the ability of the brain to hold onto specific types of memories.

The positive side to this research includes the fact that the drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems. With an estimated 100 million Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers worldwide by the year 2050, this appears to be a clearly beneficial target treatment.

This possibility of memory editing has enormous possibilities; yet it also raises huge ethical issues. For example, how will erasing specific memories affect humans? Any such drug could be misused to erase or block memories of bad behavior, even of crimes. It may seem beneficial to erase traumatic memories, but the erasure of other troubling memories, and the healthy dread of them, form the foundation of moral conscience.

I know that memories of punishments from parents and other authority figures have had a major impact on my decision making and resultant actions. If I had no recollection of the way I felt during punishments, then I would probably be apt to repeat the same mistakes. If somebody erased those types of memories, then it would be like somebody squashing my internal "Jiminy Cricket".

A substance that improves memory would raise larger social concerns in addition to ethical concerns. For example, when scientists find a drug to strengthen memory, will everyone feel compelled to use it? People already use smart drugs and performance enhancers of all kinds; so a substance that actually improved memory could lead to an arms race.

At this point in time, the ethical and social implications of memory erasing/enhancing are just another future dread. However, we can all find comfort in the fact that such drugs may never even make it to human trials. Also, we can always rely on our government to halt any possibilities of future research. I say this because there may actually be positive aspects to this type of drug, such as Alzheimer's treatment, and we know how the government has reacted to promising studies (pre-Obama days)…case in point: will stem cell treatments ever get off the ground?

Humanising Medicine

Currently, I am a medical writer for clinical trials. The human aspect of my job is hard to ignore considering that I am writing about subjects' immunology and safety results. However, a recent New York Times article took me back to my earlier days of working as a medical technologist in a hospital microbiology laboratory; a time when the human aspect was not always present.

As a technologist, I spent many hours processing serum samples through machines, and, at times, feeling like a machine myself. In other respects, I had to force myself to de-humanize the certain samples due to their inherent nature. For example, I would pretend that stool samples were actually mud; however, it was difficult to keep the mental image of mud when that mud also contained corn.

The main point is the fact that the job duties became extremely mechanical in nature. The workload was high, and the manpower was low. Therefore, tasks must have been performed efficiently without extended thought, and it was very easy to forget about the human aspect of the job.

Dr. Yehonatan Turner, a radiologist from Jerusalem, appears to have the same problem in his field, but he thinks that he has come up with a solution.

When Dr. Turner began his residency in radiology, he was frustrated that the CT scans he analyzed revealed nothing about the patients behind them. So to make things personal, he imagined each patient was his father. But then he had another idea; to attach a photograph of the actual patient to each file.

Dr. Turner’s hunch turned into an unusual medical study. Its preliminary findings suggested that when a digital photograph was attached to a patient’s file, radiologists provided longer, more meticulous reports. And they said they felt more connected to the patients, whom they seldom meet face to face.

In the digital age, adding a photo to a file is a simple procedure, and the study’s authors say they hope it becomes a standard procedure; not just for radiologists, but also for pathologists and other doctors who rarely have contact with patients.

However, attaching photos to patient files could prove difficult in the United States. Privacy rules might require patient consent each time a photo was used.

Putting aside any ethical implications concerning privacy, the logistical considerations alone should be enough to thwart any thoughts of this photo system. Who supplies the photo? Would photo costs be covered under health insurance? What is done with the photos after a X-ray is processed? Would healthcare institutions need a separate filing area for all of these photos?

While Dr. Turner's heart seems to be in the right place, I think that his passion for photography and art should remain separate from his radiology career. I mean, where would the photograph madness end? If I were still a medical technologist, would I want to see the face of the patient's stool that I am plating?

I think the answer is that each individual in the medical field should take it upon themselves to find their own human inspiration behind mundane and mechanical tasks. For me, it was my once week expeditions out of the microbiology lab. I volunteered to be the individual to maintain the bloodgas machines in the Intensive Care Unit. If seeing people dying doesn't make you see the human aspect, then you're definitely in the wrong business.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Extending a woman's fertility indefinitely

In a quick and driveby post, a colleague and friend had commented that he and his wife were trying for another child, but they not had success recently -- he was still optimistic, though, and said that they would try again in another ten years -- and it looks like they might be able to!:

"Scientists have produced strong new evidence challenging one of the most fundamental assumptions in biology: that female mammals, including women, are born with all the eggs they will ever have.

In a provocative set of experiments involving mice, Chinese researchers have shown for the first time that an adult mammal can harbor primitive cells in her ovaries that can become new eggs and produce healthy offspring, they reported yesterday.

While much more research is needed to confirm and explore the findings, the work raises the tantalizing possibility that it could someday lead to new ways to fight a woman's biological clock, perhaps by stockpiling her egg-producing cells or by stimulating them to make eggs again.

The findings could also help speed stem cell research by providing scientists with a new source of eggs, which are crucial for producing embryonic stem cell lines tailored to individual patients and diseases but are difficult to obtain.

"This is a very big deal," said Roger G. Gosden, director of reproductive medicine at Cornell Weill Medical Center in New York, who was not involved in the research, published online by the journal Nature Cell Biology. "It is quite dramatic."

Full article here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

2009 Health Law Scholars Workshop

The Center for Health Law Studies at Saint Louis University and The American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics (ASLME) are pleased to announce the

2009 Health Law Scholars Workshop

The Health Law Scholars Workshop is a collegial forum in which faculty new to health law and bioethics scholarship present works-in-progress and receive in-depth advice from experienced scholars and teachers in the field of health law and bioethics. Each author’s work-in-progress accepted for the Health Law Scholars Workshop will be read in advance by several faculty members in relevant fields. During the Workshop
weekend, each author presents his or her paper to the full group. After extensive oral feedback from the readers, the floor is opened for a sustained exchange between the presenter and full group.

A nominating committee selects the papers to be presented at the Workshop. The committee looks for papers that have an original thesis and will contribute to scholarly literature. The Workshop is designed
primarily to provide feedback on articles intended for spring submission to law review journals. The Workshop is not designed to review published work or papers already accepted for publication.

Those interested in presenting a health law or bioethicswork-in-progress at the Health Law Scholars Workshop should submit a one-page abstract of the proposed paper together with a resumé to Mary Ann Jauer at Saint Louis University School of Law by May 1, 2009 Because a blind selection process is used, please do not include the author’s name or institutional affiliation on the abstract.


Mary Ann Jauer, Program Coordinator
Center for Health Law Studies
Saint Louis University School of Law
3700 Lindell Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108

Phone: 314.977.3067
Fax: 314.977.3332
Email: jauerma@slu.edu

View the Scholars Workshop Brochure by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

This Week's Dose of Woo: Amgydala coaching

In borrowing the above phrase from Orac, I chuckled when I overheard this humorous, tongue-in-cheek exchange between two colleagues discussing neuroscience:

"Everybody knows that the amygdala is the seat of the soul.  Just Google it.

Amygdala coaching by telephone or Skype is available for $90 US/ hour.

Just trying to be helpful :>)

btw, Please note that amygdala counseling will revive dead philosophies but not dead philosophers."


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Just Say No to "Just Scoot up": The End of the Pap Smear


Here is in an insight into everything that's wrong with American Medicine. The New York Times report that a newly discovered dna test is so much more accurate than the traditional Pap smear as to make that humiliating and sometimes painful test (not to overshare, but that's my truth) obsolete. What might be an obstacle to this miracle? American Medicine's Paternalism.

According to Debbie Saslow, executive director of the American Cancer, her greatest problem in getting the Pap smear replaced by DNA testing is that
" [W]e haven’t been able to get doctors to go along,” Why not? Are doctors concerned about the cost or accuracy of the new test? Not at all. They are concerned about the ability of American Women to manage their own health. Dr. Saslow reports that “The average gynecologist, especially the older ones, says, ‘Women come in for their Pap smear, and that’s how we get them in here to get other care.’ We’re totally overscreening, but when you’ve been telling everyone for 40 years to get an annual Pap smear, it’s hard to change.”

I'd like to suggest that if there were a DNA test for prostate cancer that would replace the current hands-on method of diagnosis, it would be adopted faster than you could snap on a latex glove.

I have a student currently writing a paper on the gender inequalities of Health Insurance (why is Viagra covered but not birth control?), but I wonder if our bigger problem isn't that it's hard to focus on the goals of quality and cost effectiveness when you're blinded by paternalism. And lest anyone think this is a criticism of male doctors, it is not. The values of the medical profession in the United States are transmitted equally to men and women. While this quote by Dr. Saslow is directed signficiantly at older doctors (more of whom are probably male)I would be surprised if they are the only ones to endorse this view.

Friday, April 03, 2009

From Tragedy to Triumph

Scientist at Work: Alice W. Flaherty
From Bipolar Darkness, the Empathy to Be a Doctor

By Elissa Ely, MD
The New York Times
March 17, 2009

I’m glad to be writing about someone who used a personal tragedy to help others. Dr. Alice W. Flaherty had achieved more as a medical doctor, neuroscientist, and published researcher by the age of 35 than most people accomplish in a lifetime. However, a postpartum crisis of grief following the delivery of stillborn twins triggered the onset of mania that was characterized by hypergraphia, the compulsion to write anything and everything, anywhere and everywhere, including the use of her own body as a manuscript page. Dr. Flaherty was ultimately hospitalized for bipolar disorder. Her experience with mental illness led to a bestselling book, “The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block and the Creative Brain,” and a new, empathetic approach to treating patients that stemmed from her own need for empathy during her illness.

Ten years after the initial onset of mania, Dr. Flaherty is director of the movement disorders fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, specializing in deep brain stimulation, and an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. She applies her preoccupation with the neuroanatomy of empathy to the treatment of her own patients, always aware of the fact that she is also a patient. She has been able to channel this seeming disability into something greater: the ability to relate to patients from a place of experience, especially depression, that allows them to identify with her. Dr. Flaherty manages her illness with medication, but she still has periods of mania and she still writes on her arms. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. She uses her manic episodes as the driving force for new ideas about treatments and theories of the mind; the subsequent depressions are used to consolidate her thoughts and edit the flood of writing from the manic wave.

Such creativity and brilliance are characteristic of many patients with bipolar disorder: Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Robert Downey Jr., Tracey Ullman, Sting, Jane Pauley, Winston Churchill, and Virginia Woolf are some names that may be familiar. Robert Downey Jr., one of the “brat pack” of the 1990s, attained notoriety for his well-publicized struggle with drugs and the law, as much as for his brilliant acting. Drug and alcohol abuse, hypersexuality, excessive spending, psychosis, and violence are all characteristics of the manic phase of bipolar disorder. The suicide rate is high. Many don’t achieve the level of insight that Dr. Flaherty has been able to attain in order to transform the mood swings into something constructive. Many patients don’t adhere to their treatment regimens and wind up losing careers, relationships, and even their lives.

Bipolar disorder is so difficult to treat because it often takes years to diagnose accurately. The standard therapies are valproic acid (an anti-seizure medication) or lithium (a mood stabilizer) and adjunctive anti-depressant and atypical anti-psychotic medications. These drugs cause numerous side effects, including weight gain, hyperglycemia, sexual dysfunction, and feelings of dullness. Many patients who have enjoyed the euphoria and high energy of hypomania and mania can’t tolerate the “earthbound” heavy feeling caused by their medications. An acute episode of mania or depression or refractory chronicity that result in hospitalization can take months and even years to rebound from. Not to mention the stigma of having a mental illness. Another physician and well-known spokesperson for mental disorders, Kay Redfield Jamison poignantly described her journey into madness in the autobiography, “An Unquiet Mind.” Dr. Jamison survived numerous suicide attempts before she was finally able to gain control of her disease and reclaim her life. Such is the course of bipolar disorder.

According to Dr. Flaherty, “Neurology and psychiatry should be treating the same organ.” Indeed, some psychiatrists do treat bipolar disorder as a neurological condition. But a mental illness is more than a condition; it is a person’s life. What distinguishes Dr. Flaherty from most caregivers of psychiatric patients is her own patient status. The injection of empathy and identification into the patient-physician relationship can have a more profound effect on the prognosis for that patient than simple adherence to a medication regimen. This type of relationship provides hope to patients. They are able to see a successful, healthy individual who had to transcend many of the barriers that they now face and translate that picture into a possibility for their own lives. Dr. Flaherty is able to empower her patients because she sees things as they would and can adjust her treatments accordingly. Caregivers in any situation have the opportunity to transform lives with a simply shift in perspective in their communication with patients. And it wouldn’t cost anything in terms of time or money.

Donna Proszynski

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Women's Health Heroes Awards

When you hear the words “Women’s Health Hero,” who comes to mind? Whoever your heroes are, Our Bodies, Ourselves wants to know about them! They are seeking nominations to give awards to honor those who make significant contributions to the health and well-being of women. It’s a great way to publicly recognize people who make a difference in your life or the lives of others. Click on link above or the widget in our sidebar and let us know who your Women's Health Hero is!