Wednesday, November 25, 2009

But for What Reason I Don't Know...

Know what it's like to enter an abortion clinic? Scared, in a crisis that means a radical change in your life, and have to pass by the "pro-life" protesters who belittle you, look down on you? Pulling a knife seems perfectly reasonable to me. I wonder if the "assailant" ever got the services she needed. From LifeNews:

Woman Heading for Abortion Faces Assault Charges, Pulled Knife on Pro-Lifer

Duluth, MN ( -- A Minnesota woman faces assault charges after she allegedly pulled a knife on a pro-life advocate who encouraged her not to have an abortion. The assault follows a shooting that took place in September in Michigan that saw local pro-life advocate Jim Pouillon shot and killed as he protested abortion.

Leah Winandy and other pro-life advocates were gathered outside the abortion business in Duluth when an unnamed 25-year-old woman from Superior approached the Building For Women abortion center on 1st Street at around 8:00 a.m. local time Tuesday morning.

Winandy told the woman she cared about her unborn child but the woman responded by reportedly brandishing a knife and held it to Winandy's throat.

"We asked the women 'please don't take the life of your unborn baby we care about what happens to them,'" Winandy told the Northland News Center. "She said 'don't do this,don't talk to me, don't come near me' and I just said 'fear god,' and she had the knife to my throat and I was a little nervous," Winandy added. "She was probably trying to threaten me and intimidate me...but for what reason I don't know."

After the woman threatened Winandy, another sidewalk counselor came to her aid and the woman threatened her with the knife as well, holding it close to her neck.

The assailant then entered the abortion facility -- where police later found her and located the knife in her purse. Police officials arrested her and took her to the St. Louis County jail, where she is expected to be formally charged

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The Vatican Playing Good Cop, Bad Cop.

From the Catholic Knight:

It's a mortal sin to vote for this bill as is. The provisions for public funding of abortion and euthanasia must be removed. If any Catholic politician votes for this bill as it is, with public funding for abortion and euthanasia intact, that politician can expect disciplinary action from the Catholic Church which may include formal excommunication at the discretion of the bishop.

Let me say just two things about this.

First and foremost, it is well within the rights of ANY church, mosque or synagogue (not only the Catholic Church) to discipline its own members according to the teachings of that religious institution. In Christianity this is specifically outlined as a process involving private rebuke, exhortation and if necessary interdiction, followed by excommunication. The Catholic Church in particular safeguards the rights of it's members by permitting tribunals in which those excommunicated persons may appeal the decision of the local bishop in ecclesiastical courts going all the way up to the Vatican supreme court known as the Apostolic Signatura. So Catholic bishops are usually very reluctant to excommunicate unless they know they've got a watertight case that will withstand the appeals process. In the case of most pro-choice U.S. Catholic politicians that watertight case has already been made, as many of them are already forbidden to receive communion, yet the bishops withhold formal excommunication for now.

Sadly, there is a foolish notion in America today, promoted by many on the Left side of the political spectrum, which asserts that religious institutions (the Catholic Church in particular) have no right to discipline politicians because of the supposed "separation of church and state." They assert that because the Church is disciplining it's members in Congress, it is effectively meddling in politics. Some of these people even go so far as to suggest the Catholic Church ought to be legally punished for it's supposed "political meddling" by revoking it's tax exemption. The late Senator Ted Kennedy not only suggested it, but actually threatened it at various points during his political career. Other politicians, and members of the media elite, continue to do the same today. Such threats demonstrate a profound ignorance not only of religious procedure, but also civil rights and how the Constitution of the United States is supposed to work.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
- Article I, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution
A careful examination of this text plainly states that "congress shall pass no law." Notice it doesn't say "the church shall take no action." Clearly the prohibition is placed on government, not religious institutions. It is the government that is restrained, not the church. Basically according to this document, which is the supreme law of the land, the Church (any church or religious institution) can do whatever the hell it wants, but the government cannot create laws that restrict the activity of religious institutions. So according to the U.S. Constitution anyway, the Catholic Church can threaten to excommunicate every Catholic politician in congress, for whatever reason, and actually do it, while the congress is powerless to do anything about it. That deceased blowhard Ted Kennedy, and all his windbag relatives, can shout and threaten all they want, because in the end, that's all the power they really have.

Now the second thing I want to say is this. The U.S. Catholic Church IS engaging in some politics here. As I stated above, it is well within it's rights to do so, and this is true with any religious institution. However, it's not what most people think. The Church is not using disciplinary action as a
threat to influence the outcome of congressional legislation, rather the Church is withholding disciplinary action as an incentive to influence the outcome of congressional legislation. It's the classic case of "good-cop verses bad-cop." You see the U.S. Catholic bishops (playing the role of "good-cop") are intentionally NOT complying with the directives of Rome (playing the role of "bad-cop"). For Rome has made it explicitly clear that Catholic politicians who support abortion are to be subject to interdict at the very least, and in most cases formally excommunicated. Yet the U.S. Catholic bishops (i.e. "good-cop") have been slow to implement this mandate, and that is specifically to give Catholic politicians a chance to redeem themselves. This particular health care legislation is one such example. If their strategy works, and the legislation is either amended to eliminate abortion and euthanasia, or the legislation goes down entirely, then the U.S. Catholic bishops ("good-cop") might be able to hold back the heavy hand of Rome ("bad-cop") a little longer, thus saving U.S. Catholic politicians the embarrassing scandal of formal and public excommunications. Is this playing politics? Well, yes it is, but it's nothing new. The Catholic Church has been using the EXACT SAME strategy on communist nations for decades. It was specifically used to manipulate authorities within the Soviet Union to allow for more religious freedom. Now that the Church is employing the exact same strategy against the United States Congress says a lot about how the Vatican views our current political alignment.

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Deflating the Miracle.

More on Rom Houben at the New York Times:

On Tuesday, Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics, told Wired blogger Brandon Keim: “If facilitated communication is part of this, and it appears to be, then I don’t trust it.” Mr. Caplan added, “I’m not saying the whole thing is a hoax, but somebody ought to be checking this in greater detail. Any time facilitated communication of any sort is involved, red flags fly.”

After examining video of the Belgian man being helped to type, Mr. Caplantold The A.P. on Wednesday:

That’s called ‘facilitated communication.That is Ouija board stuff. It’s been discredited time and time again. When people look at it, it’s usually the person doing the pointing who’s doing the messages, not the person they claim they are helping.

Facilitated communication still has its defenders, and we should note that the controversy over its use in the 1990s involved messages supposedly typed by people with autism, not locked-in syndrome.

The skeptics who are attempting to diagnose Mr. Houben from afar, using just video evidence, seem to be in a similar position to the members of Congress who tried to evaluate the condition of Terri Schiavo in 2005, during the legal battle over the decision to remove her feeding tube. On Wednesday ABC News reported:

The family of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was artificially kept alive for 15 years, say they feel both heartbreak and vindication over the news this week that a Belgian man thought to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) was fully conscious for two decades.

As a reader of The Lede correctly points out, we should underscore there is no evidence that Ms. Schiavo’s condition was misdiagnosed the way Mr. Houben’s was. After Ms. Schiavo’s death, The Times reported that an autopsy showed that her brain was severely “atrophied,” weighed less than half of what it should have, and that no treatment could have reversed the damage. One of the doctors who performed the autopsy said that Ms. Schiavo’s condition was “consistent” with that of a person in a persistent vegetative state. He added that the damage to her brain “was irreversible.”

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How to discuss Costs in End of Life Care.

More GeriPal fandom. Today they have a discussion about how end of life care and cost should be discussed:

If I have to take a stand on what I see as an essentially normative ethical issue, I would argue that promoting informed patient choices should be the objective of the palliative care community (one could make a similar argument about the geriatrics community). While reducing costs and reducing suffering are laudable goals, for both ethical and pragmatic reasons, they are unlikely to be successful in today’s political climate.
I also believe that these issues are inextricably intertwined. How we (we meaning the palliative care community in this case) promote ourselves and address the cost issue depends on our audience. Hospitals and health systems see palliative care clinicians as cost reducers and referring providers see us as reducers of suffering. Costs savings mean little to referring providers, and reducing suffering means little to health systems (I’ve heard Diane Meier say of reduced suffering as a goal in and of itself, "that and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee”). We need to demonstrate cost savings to grow outside of the inpatient and hospice settings. We need to demonstrate reduced suffering so providers will refer patients to us. And for ourselves, for our patients and their families, we need to say honestly that we are helping them navigate serious illness with the goal of promoting their best interests.

I've long said that providing patients with informed choices for their care, particularly their end of life care, ameliorates rationing by reducing costs. It's great to see end of life care professionals debating this subject.

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False Either/Or Frame of Provider Refusal (Conscience Clause).

Columbia Law School hosted a debate on November 9 about conscience clauses (more accurately called provider refusals) in medicine. You can read the story here, but here's a clip that ends with a stunning quote from Steven Aden, senior legal council of Alliance Defense Fund that gets at the false-choice argument Catholic medical facilities and their defenders are asking the public to make:

The issue of conscience objections in the medical profession gained increased attention when the Bush Administration, in its final days, promulgated a provider refusal rule. It expanded the right of health care workers and institutions to refuse to provide medical care, counseling, and referrals for religious or moral reasons.
Kolbi-Molinas is co-counsel in a lawsuit challenging the regulation. “The ACLU believes an individual's—as opposed to an institution's—religious objection to the provision of certain health care services should be accommodated to the maximum possible extent, so long as patients' rights, including their right not to be discriminated against, are not compromised as a result,” she said.
“Whatever their religious or moral beliefs, health care professionals should ensure patients receive complete and accurate information, obtain appropriate referrals, and secure immediate care in an emergency.”
Reasonable delays in non-emergency situations—for example, having to wait at a pharmacy to receive emergency contraception while a pharmacist, who objects to the use of emergency contraception for religious reasons, gets another pharmacist to dispense the medication—are a reasonable accommodation of providers’ beliefs, Kolbi-Molinas said.
This controversy flared in New York in July, when a Catholic nurse sued Mount Sinai Medical Center for allegedly being forced to assist in a late-term abortion procedure. Aden, who is co-counsel in that case, found some common ground with Kolbi-Molinas regarding the conscience rights of individual providers. But he cautioned that health exception provisions are too broad and could threaten conscience rights.
Moreover, Aden said institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, were also entitled to conscience protections when it came to refusing to perform abortion procedures, and expressed concern for pharmacists who are pressured to provide emergency contraception against their beliefs.
"One in six Americans receives health care treatment at a Catholic hospital,” Aden said Are we really intent on risking the damage that would result to the health care system if Catholic providers pulled out of the market rather than violate their fundamental religious convictions?"
The US government, while allowing Catholic and other religious health care providers to maintain tax exempt status and to receive 50% of their funds from state and federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, permit these entities to dictate, according to religious doctrine, what services patients receive. The government has done little to protect patients rights.

"Pro-life" policies which restrict much more than abortion, including sterilizations, lesbian or unmarried women's fertility treatments, tubal ligations, end of life advance directives, contraceptives, and HIV and STD prevention, are imposed on 1 out of 5 patients in the US.

These "pro-life" entities are framing the argument as an either/or. Either you let us continue our restricted service of 20% of the population's health needs or you prepare for us to pull out of health care altogether. Groups like The MergerWatch Project have proven that compromises can be made. By mediating Catholic-secular hospital mergers, they work to prevent the erosion of informed consent, provider refusal of a patient's needs, and sole-provider hospitals from dictating to entire communities what health choices are available.

In other words, Catholic and other religious hospitals and health care networks are playing a game of no-compromise hardball. They refuse to make referrals, refuse to properly inform patients, refuse to honor patients' rights and refuse to address statistics regarding the benefits of the services they don't provide. They pretend they have the US population over a social services barrel when really they are working to impose their ideology on the country. It's a mission. The government should protect patients' rights, requiring these monopolizing organizations to compromise for the service of the public, tax exempt status, and informed consent, and forget the barrel.

Today CNN reported that the White House will address provider refusals (or conscience clauses) on Friday.

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Mexican Mennonites and the Drug Wars.

From the BBC, via Graciela:

Mexico's rampant drug-related violence is making headlines, with thousands of deaths linked to the turf wars this year. But while the focus is on urban centres like Ciudad Juarez, rural communities have also felt the effects first hand.

Abraham Peters
Abraham Peters is increasingly worried for his family's future

"They have murdered Mennonite people… the drug-traffickers," says Abraham Peters, a 66-year-old retired rancher, who hails from the Protestant Mennonite sect in the agricultural heartland of Chihuahua state.

Their parents and grandparents came to Mexico in the 1920s from Canada after being promised religious freedom in return for resurrecting farmland devastated during the Mexican revolution.

Mr Peters' community is one of many caught in the crossfire as the federal government cracks down on the illegal drug trade.

Despite the comfort provided by his religion, he admits feeling increasingly "unsettled" about his family's safety. "Years ago you never heard about executions," he ponders and tails off.

Few members of his Church are talking about moving to Mennonite settlements in Belize and Paraguay as a result of the violence in Mexico, but the community is clearly concerned.

The strain shows momentarily as Mr Peters rubs his forehead before pointedly adjusting his tall, cream cowboy hat, part of the trademark attire of Mennonite men that is a visual sign of the community's commitment to preserve its traditions.

His dark blue dungarees, originally inspired by the uniforms of Mexican railway workers observed on that momentous journey down from Canada, bear a large pocket at the front.

From it he pulls out a map and points to the place where drug gangs reportedly killed a Mennonite man in Cuauhtemoc and another, closer to home, in the farming corridor outside the city's commercial hub earlier this year.

Putting down roots

Mr Peters looks wistfully upon his immaculate yet modest family home, flanked by waving cornfields. For him, this farmhouse, within the largest cluster of Mennonite colonies in Mexico, is more than bricks and mortar.

It is the only home he has ever known, where he has worked the land and raised cattle since boyhood.

Abraham Peters' parents
Abraham Peters' parents moved to Mexico in the 1920s

Built by his father, Isidro - a first generation Mennonite migrant from Canada's Saskatchewan province - the house is also Mr Peters' birthplace, where he still lives with wife, Catarina, and Maria, the youngest of their eight children.

All speak the Low German or Plautdietsch language of their forebears, and only the men learn Spanish.

Two of his sons have taken over the family farming business in Cuauhtemoc, where they are already training up the next generation. Others have purchased agricultural land in Mennonite settlements in the north of Chihuahua.

Putting down roots is rare in Mennonite history, which has been punctuated by periodic mass migration.

Originating in the Netherlands, these followers of 16th Century Anabaptist Menno Simons, a radical Protestant reformer, relocated to Russia in the 1770s and then to Canada in the late 19th Century.

They fled persecution for their refusal to participate in military action or swap their Germanic dialect for the host language.

A 7,000-strong community moved to Mexico between 1922 and 1927 after negotiating temporary fiscal benefits, autonomy over education in their mother tongue and exemption from military service.

Economic success

Since then their numbers have swelled to some 60,000 in Chihuahua's 25 Mennonite colonies, while smaller settlements are found in Durango, Campeche, Zacatecas and Tamaulipas.

Unlike fellow Anabaptists the Pennsylvania Amish, Mexican Mennonites have steadily modernised agricultural techniques in response to the harsh realities of their environment, where drought is a regular threat.

Cheese production in Chihuahua state, Mexico
Mexican Mennonites dominate local cheese production

Authorities estimate Mennonite farmers account for at least 60% of the state's agricultural produce, supplying staples such as corn and beans. Nicknamed "vendequesos" or "cheese-sellers," Mennonites make 80% of the region's cheese and some 70% of its dairy produce.

Since Mexico's financial crisis of 1994, they have invested collectively in an exclusive credit union where only Mennonite shareholders are permitted. By safeguarding access to credit, the community has managed to partially insulate itself from the global financial crisis. Good harvests in 2008 and 2009 have also helped.

But these economic achievements have attracted the attention of organised criminal gangs, putting Mennonites at risk of armed robbery, kidnap and extortion.

Katharine Rempenning, director of the state government's Mennonite Outreach Programme, dismissed talk of any mass exodus over fear of violent crime, but admitted some members of the community "were thinking of leaving Mexico".

Crime prevention

Chihuahua's minority Christian groups are still reeling from the 7 July murder of Mormon anti-crime activist Benjamin LeBaron, and his neighbour Luis Widmar.

We don't know what future awaits us - only God knows
Abraham Peters

Mr LeBaron rose to prominence after his own brother was abducted in May this year. Mennonite groups joined Mr LeBaron's peaceful protests against a wave of kidnappings affecting both communities.

Ms Rempenning, a Mennonite of Russian extraction, is concerned that her community's culture of being "open to others" makes members more vulnerable to becoming victims of crime.

Giving advice on crime prevention - "most importantly, kidnapping" - is a priority for her department, which has an annual budget of 500,000 pesos (US $38,258).

Meanwhile, Mr Peters suggests some threats to Mennonite values are coming from within.

"There are Mennonites involved in the drug [trade]… in distribution," he alleges.

Uncertain future

While Cuauhtemoc is one of Mexico's fastest growing urban centres, there is also sense of abandonment.

Mr Peters, who in his retirement has been taking tourists around Mennonite country, says he has hardly received any overseas visitors this year because of security fears, compounded by the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in April.

Busloads of Canadians and Americans no longer visit the city's Mennonite Museum for the same reasons.

"We don't know what future awaits us," Mr Peters states with a tone of acceptance. "Only God knows."

But for this Mennonite at least, his future is in the land of his birth. "We are Mexican now," he proclaims as he clasps his hands together for emphasis. "Mexicans and Mennonites are like this!"

"We don't know what God wants with Mexico… but yes, we will stay, yes we are going to pray very much and come together."

This peaceful religious community could be facing its biggest test yet.

Mental Illness and Assisted Suicide.

From the Dutch publication NRC Handelsblad, a story about mental illness and assisted suicide:

"Psychiatrists have a holier-than-thou attitude," Hans van Dam, a nurse and a teacher, said at a symposium organised by the Right to Die-NL foundation in the Dutch town of Ede on Monday. The taboo on assisted suicide for mental patients needs to be broken, Van Dam argued. "To put it bluntly: cancer will kill you in a matter of years, but schizophrenia is forever."

"The suffering of psychiatric patients can be just as intolerable as many forms of physical suffering," said Eugène Sutorius, a professor of criminal law and a former president of the foundation.

At Monday's symposium many attendees had horror stories about people who ended up killing themselves in the most atrocious ways after their treating psychiatrist refused to help them. "At some clinics they will say right away: we don't do that here," according to Van Houwelingen. And suicide attempts are not always successful, said Sutorius, "leaving people to go through life even more damaged than before."

"If euthanasia wasn't such a delicate subject I would be tempted to bring it before the disciplinary tribunal," added Sutorius. "Doctors have a duty to discuss this if patients have a death wish and there is no treatment available."

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Bioethicist Jacob Appel on Rom Houben.

From Appel's blog at HuffPo:

Opponents of the right to die appeared to savor a public relations victory with the reported "rebirth" of car-crash victim Rom Houben, a forty-six year old Belgian man who is said to have spent twenty-three years trapped immobile in his own body. Dr. Steven Laureys, a leading neurologist and well-respected coma expert based in Liege, used brain imaging techniques not available at the time of Houben's accident to argue that his patient was "locked-in" and fully conscious, rather than relegated to a vegetative state. A speech therapist, Linda Wouters, now claims that she has helped a grateful Houben to communicate with the outside world using a touch-screen keyboard. If Houben's story does live up to the media hype--and many authorities in the field are not yet convinced--conservative activists may attempt to use his tragedy as an argument against withdrawing care from those believed to be persistently comatose. However, should Dr. Laureys prove correct in his belief that many other patients are similarly imprisoned, these calamities may instead offer a compelling argument for withdrawing such care. In fact, such circumstances might present the rare occasions when active euthanasia is morally justified without overt consent.


When a "locked-in" individual can express a preference for life or death, respect for autonomy strongly suggests that such a wish be honored. No conscious individual should ever be euthanized against his wishes merely because he is not socially productive, or because his care is costly, or because a panel of bioethicists believes that his life is not worth living. The problem is that few individuals ever express their wishes regarding this disturbing set of particular circumstances--one way or another--before they find themselves in a locked-in state. That omission leads to a deeply unsettling question: In cases where no prior preference has been expressed, should the default rule be the preservation of life or should the default be freedom from suffering? One solution might be to survey the population and to establish the majority preference as the default. Another might leave the decision in the hands of family members. Or we could even conclude that some forms of suffering are so horrific that a few patients may have to die against their preferences so that others will not have to undergo years of unremitting psychological agony.

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Why Houben Story Now?

I've been wondering for the past day or so why the story of Rom Houben, the Belgian man reported to have been erroneously diagnosed as in a coma for 23 years, is erupting now. After all, Steven Laureys, the doctor who "discovered" Houben was in a locked in state, made this discovery almost three years ago.

The nature of the reporting and the science is being questioned by neurologists and bioethicists across the blogosphere (see my prior posts).

Some reports on "pro-life" sites claim Laureys consulted in the Terri Schiavo case. And Laureys, according to a very impressive bio online, was an invited guest to the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life's International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative States: Scientific Advancements and Ethical Dilemmas" conference in 2004.

Laureys, along with other colleagues, recently published a paper that addresses the diagnosis, hence the media noise now.

But oddly, the timing is perfect for the Vatican and "pro-life" groups. It comes just as Ethical and Religious Directives, the laws that govern Catholic hospitals, hospices and other medical facilities, have been changed to classify artificial nutrition and hydration as "obligatory" and the church has stepped up their activism on health care reform and aid in dying advocacy here in the US. Terri Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, a full-time "pro-life" speaker whose religious "rebirth" was caused by his sister's death, and the leader of the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, wrote an article two months ago that called for the eradication of the persistent vegetative state diagnosis.

I am encouraged by some of the online research and reporting about this story, so sensationalized by the bigger media outlets.

Sensational health care conclusions here,

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Doubting the Case of Rom Houben.

From Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine:

I don’t know. The mainstream media is doing a wonderful job sensationalizing this case, presenting it without skepticism. Some outlets are doing a good job of discussing the relevant issues – but they don’t have the information to have a meaningful discussion of this particular case. Details are tantalizing but thin.

The case is that of Rom Houben. The story was broke, as far as I can tell, bythe Mail Online – yes, that is a huge red flag. It does not make the story wrong, it just doesn’t instill in me confidence in the reporting.

Mr. Houben was in a terrible motor vehicle accident 23 years ago and has been paralyzed ever since. His diagnosis has been PVS – persistent vegetative state. However, recently, we are told, his mother insisted on a neurological re-evaluation. This is actually quite reasonable, generally speaking (again, without knowing specific details of this case).

As a result Dr. Steven Laureys did some advanced neuro-imaging on Mr. Houben. Laureys is a neurologist with not only legitimate but impressive expertise in coma and disorders of consciousness. Often the press throws around the term “top expert” without any meaning, but in this case the term seems appropriate.

I do not know what imaging was done, but Dr. Laureys’ team is doing research using functional MRI scanning and MRI spectroscopy – techniques which infer brain function from blood flow or metabolism. They are using these scanning techniques, during resting and activated states, to see how much cortical brain function there is in patients in apparent coma.

According to the press reports, Dr. Laureys found that Houben’s brain function was intact, or almost intact. This led to further evaluation of Mr. Houben’s clinical state, and it was discovered that he was able to communicate by typing out messaging on a board. Mr. Houben soon began recounting how he was awake the whole time, screaming inside his head, and eventually retreated into his dreams. He now feels like he has been reborn and looks forward to interacting with his family.

This is a wonderful story for the media. But to this neurologist, and I would think to any critically-thinking journalist, some questions come to mind. The biggest problem with this case as presented is that the finger-typing of Mr. Houben looks suspiciously like facilitated communication.

Read the whole post here.

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More Doubt about Houben "Locked In" Case.

From ScienceBlogs, more concern for the nature of the science and reporting regarding the case of Rom Houben, a Belgian recently discovered to have been "locked in" for 23 years. Video at the link above.

Look at the video again. Consider the claim and compare it to what you see. Here is someone who is rapidly going from letter to letter, yet it is claimed that Ms. Wouters is "feeling for minute twitches" in Houben's forefinger. Does it seem plausible that these minute twitches can lead to such rapid typing, even with practice? Not to me. To me this looks like a clear case of facilitated communication. Basically, it's the same principle as a ouija board; it's theideomotor effect. All it is in general is what the "facilitator" hopes or wishes it to be, whether she even realizes it or not. Examining the video, it looks to me as though part of the time Mr. Houben is not even looking at the keyboard; yet his assistant keeps typing. At one point it looks as though Mr. Houben's eyes are closed. If that's not enough for you, then look at this video, where it is even clearer that Houbens is not even looking at the keyboard at various points when his facilitator is typing.


Regardless of whether Houben is locked-in or in a vegetative state, what is being shown on the videos above and described in the the news reports is indeed, as Randi put it, a cruel farce that allows the same cranks who claimed that Terri Schiavo wasn't in a persistent vegetative state to hijack the Houbens case as "proof that they might have been right." More importantly, it's horribly cruel to Houben's mother, but it's even crueler to Houben himself if it just so happens that he is conscious but locked-in. In that latter case, this "facilitator" has destroyed any chance that Houben will be able to figure out a way of communicating with the outside world, and that possibility will be precluded as long as her FC-created communication is accepted at the only way Houben can communicate.

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White House to Reverse Conscience Clause.

Woah! Sorry for the false alarm, folks. I got duped by a wayward google alert that pulled up a February story, not a current one. I hope the white house waits until after health care reform goes through to revisit provider refusals!

CNN is reporting that the White House will reverse the provider refusal laws, or the conscience clause, signed into law by departing President Bush last January, on Friday.

It expanded on a 30-year-old law establishing a "conscience clause" for "health-care professionals who don't want to perform abortions."

Under the rule, workers in health-care settings -- from doctors to janitors -- can refuse to provide services, information or advice to patients on subjects such as contraception, family planning, blood transfusions and even vaccine counseling if they are morally against it.

"We recognize and understand that some providers have objections to providing abortions, according to an official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The official declined to be identified because the policy change had not been announced. "We want to ensure that current law protects them.

"But we do not want to impose new limitations on services that would allow providers to refuse to provide to women and their families services like family planning and contraception that would actually help prevent the need for an abortion in the first place."

Many health-care organizations, including the American Medical Association, believe health-care providers have an obligation to their patients to advise them of the options despite their own beliefs. Critics of the current rule argue there are already laws on the books protecting health-care professionals when it comes to refusing care for personal reasons.

Dr. Suzanne T. Poppema, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, praised Obama "for placing good health care above ideological demands."

"Physicians across the country were outraged when the Bush administration, in its final days, limited women's access to reproductive health care," she said. "Hundreds of doctors protested these midnight regulations and urged President Obama to repeal them quickly. We are thrilled that President Obama took the first steps today to ensure that our patients' health is once again protected."

But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, "Protecting the right of all health-care providers to make professional judgments based on moral convictions and ethical standards is foundational to federal law and is necessary to ensure that access to health care is not diminished, which will occur if health-care workers are forced out of their jobs because of their ethical stances.

"President's Obama's intention to change the language of these protections would result in the government becoming the conscience and not the individual. It is a person's right to exercise their moral judgment, not the government's to decide it for them."

An announcement reversing the current rule is expected early next week, the HHS official said. Any final action would have to be taken after a 30-day public comment period.

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