A glimmer of sanity in Kansas

Scales of justice
Scales of justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Associated Press reports that the Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of anti-abortion crusading former KS Attorney General (2003-2007) Phil Kilne. During his time as Attorney General, and throughout a subsequent stint as Johnson County District Attorney, Kline aggressively attacked Planned Parenthood and abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The intensity of that relentless battle led to the killing of Dr. Tiller by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder on a Sunday morning in May, 2009.

No one is pinning blame for the murder of the widely-beloved physician on the anti-abortion obsessed former attorney. But Planned Parenthood supporters and pro-choice activists have to be cheering the small light that’s now shining on Kline’s egregious misconduct. The 154-page Supreme Court decision lists 11 specific violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct committed by Kline while he was in office. As county D.A., for example, he filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, all of which were subsequently dropped.

Third-trimester abortions, which are performed by fewer than a handful of providers in the U.S., are in many ways the hardest to defend, for those of us committed to protection of women’s reproductive rights. But I can absolutely promise that no one chooses a late-term abortion without strong, urgent and very personal reason. It’s a complex procedure with attendant complex effects. But Dr. Tiller chose to offer this procedure to women in need, and others are working hard to preserve the right as part of his legacy.

A new documentary, “After Tiller,” just opened in the San Francisco Bay area. It focuses on the four physicians who now openly offer late-term abortions. Film maker Martha Shane, co-director with Lana Wilson, is in town and speaking at a Q&A session following today’s showing at the Roxie Theater (where I’ll simultaneously be signing copies of Perilous Times.) The event is sponsored by Trust Women Silver Ribbon campaign.

Which brings me full circle back to Phil Kline. Obsessed with his conviction that abortion is a sin and must be banned, Kline brought excessive, unnecessary and costly disruption to Planned Parenthood services — which extend far, far beyond abortion: counseling, breast cancer screening, free screening for STD, contraception, countless services critical to boys and girls, men and women in the area. It was cruelty bordering on the insane to those countless innocent people in need of such services. So as I head over to the Roxie I am personally grateful for the Kansas Supreme Court and the note of sanity it has now brought to the state.

The Republican Faux Census

We are in receipt of the 2010 Congressional District Census, Official Document, Process Immediately, Census Document Registered To: (I will never tell.) In slightly smaller, definitely not-bold print: Commissioned by the Republican Party.

This household is not known for being a bastion of Republican conservatism. It does, however, harbor one member known in some circles for contrarianism — for want of a better word. That member has duly completed the Census Document, with a few terse asides here and there and one or two spots left blank. It may skew the results a little, if anyone pays these things any mind.

In case your Census Document has not arrived, here are the basic facts as reported by The Associated Press:

“Strengthening our Party for the 2010 elections is going to take a massive grass-roots effort all across America. That is why I have authorized a Census to be conducted of every Congressional District in the country,” GOP Chairman Michael Steele says in a letter mailed nationwide.

The letter was sent in plain white envelopes marked “Do Not Destroy, Official Document.” Labeled “2010 Congressional District Census,” the letter uses a capital “C,” the same as the Census Bureau. It also includes a “Census Tracking Code.”

The letter makes a plea for money and accompanies a form asking voters to identify their political leanings and issues important to them. There are no disclaimers that participation in the GOP effort is voluntary; participation in the government census is required by law. Failure to participate carries a $5,000 fine, though it is rarely enforced.

Participation in this particular Official Census Document can be tricky. One can get past the name, age, party registration information in a straightforward manner… but then come the serious issues. Nicely phrased serious issues:

How much does it concern you that the Democrats have total control of the federal government? Control? Who’s in control? One is tempted to have No Opinion.

How confident are you that America’s economy will improve in the next six months? This may be an attempt to tap into the confidence factor rampant in the land, what with everyone feeling so hearty and upbeat.

As the Official Document progresses, through Political Profile to General Issues and on into Domestic  and Foreign Issues, it is possible to sense blood pressures rising all over the country:

Do you believe the huge costly Democrat-passed stimulus bill has been effective in creating jobs or stimulating America’s economy?

Do you think the record trillion-dollar federal deficit the Democrats are creating with their out-of-control spending is going to have disastrous consequences for our nation?

Are you concerned that as other countries like China buy up hundreds of billions of dollars of our national debt they will have more control in directing our nation’s future economic policies?

(Do you believe that global warming is an issue that must be dealt with immediately?)

Do you trust the Democrats to take all steps necessary to keep our nation secure in this age when terrorists could strike our country at any moment?

Do you worry that Russia is moving away from its relationship with the U.S. and trying to re-establish itself as a military and economic superpower?

You get the picture. If you were not terrified of terrorists — not to mention China, Russia and I left out the one about Obama’s dangerous, non-confrontational dealings with radical leaders in Iran, North Korea and other countries — and on the verge of panic about everything else before you opened the Census Document, you will surely be so by the time you get to the end.

Along the way, you are invited to express your opinion on school prayer, flag burning, abortion, same sex marriage, faith based initiatives and human cloning.

Send money. The envelope is postage paid.

Skip mammograms, quit breast self-exams, and maybe lighten up on 'defensive medicine' while we're at it

All those mammograms, self-exams and dutiful attention to catching breast cancer at the very first sign? Forget it. Might even do more harm than good.

As summarized by Associated Press writers Stephanie Nano and Marilynn Machione late Monday,
Most women don’t need a mammogram in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50, a government task forcesaid Monday. It’s a major reversal that conflicts with the American Cancer Society‘s long-standing position.

Also, the task force said breast self-exams do no good and women shouldn’t be taught to do them.

For most of the past two decades, the cancer society has been recommending annual mammograms beginning at 40.

But the government panel of doctors and scientists concluded that getting screened for breast cancer so early and so often leads to too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women’s odds of survival.

“The benefits are less and the harms are greater when screening starts in the 40s,” said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chair of the panel.

The new guidelines were issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose stance influences coverage of screening tests by Medicare and many insurance companies.

But Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group, said insurance coverage isn’t likely to change because of the new guidelines. No changes are planned in Medicare coverage either, said Dori Salcido, spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services department.

Maybe, just maybe, a clearer look at breast cancer screening could be accompanied by a good look at a little of the other possibly unnecessary and extraordinarily pricey “defensive medicine” going on around the country. What a fine way that would be to hold down costs and save a lot of time and angst. In another recent article (November 5) published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press reporter Steve LeBlanc wrote of how the costs of “defensive medicine,” along with malpractice insurance and lawsuit awards, are adding significantly to the soaring costs of health care.

LeBlanc illustrates the issue with a story that rings sadly true:

Dr. James Wang says he tries to tell his patients when medical procedures aren’t necessary. If they insist, though, he will do it – not so much to protect their health as his own practice.

After being sued for allegedly failing to diagnose a case of appendicitis, Wang says he turned to what’s known as “defensive medicine,” ordering extra tests, scans, consultations and even hospitalization to protect against malpractice suits.

“You are thinking about what can I do to prevent this from happening again,” he said, adding that he did nothing wrong but agreed to a minor settlement to avoid a trial.

We have, LeBlanc explains, doctors battling malpractice premiums and lawyers saying malpractice suits discourage bad medicine — meanwhile, the costs of it all add up to some ten percent of health care expenditures.

We the public, healthy and sickly alike, are caught in the middle. Could we not somehow declare a truce? We’ll quit rushing to sue, lawyers back off from chasing ambulances, doctors go about the business of practicing medicine according to patient need rather than fear of consequences. Seems like a good idea to me, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m also not having any more mammograms any time soon.

New advice: Skip mammograms in 40s, start at 50 – Yahoo! News.

End-of-life counseling stays in health care bill

Here’s a piece of very good news just in from Associated Press reporter Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar:

It’s alive. The Medicare end-of-life planning provision that 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said was tantamount to “death panels” for seniors is staying in the latest Democratic health care bill unveiled Thursday. The provision allows Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling to help beneficiaries deal with the complex and painful decisions families face when a loved one is approaching death.

The business of thinking ahead toward end-of-life decisions and making¬† one’s own wishes known through legal documents such as advance directives has long been encouraged by federal policies. But when coverage for talking things over with one’s doctor was incorporated into health reform it was quickly distorted by Republicans.¬† Sen.Charles Grassley led the successful campaign to strike it from the Senate bills. But saner heads have prevailed in the House.

“There is nothing more basic than giving someone the option of speaking with their doctor about how they want to be treated in the case of an emergency,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR. “I think the outrageous and vindictive attacks may have backfired to help raise awareness about this problem, which is why it’s been kept in the bill.” The legislation would allow Medicare to pay for a counseling session with a doctor or clinical professional once every five years. The bill calls for such sessions to be “completely” voluntary, and prohibits the encouragement or promotion of suicide or assisted suicide.

The counseling provision is supported by doctors’ groups and AARP, the seniors’ lobby. It was not included in health care bills passed by two Senate committees.

It’s alive! End-of-life counseling in health bill.

Straight Talk Q&A on Health Reform

One of the best fact-checks re health reform I’ve seen lately was just sent out by Ricardo Alonso-Zalvidar for the Associated Press:

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a “death panel.” Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong.

Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes. Here are some questions and answers on the controversy:

Q: Does the health care bill promote “mercy killing,” or euthanasia?

A: No.

Q: Then what’s all the fuss about?

And here’s where it all started:

A: A provision in the House bill written by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.

The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.

Alonso-Zaldivar covers all the basics in this brief, to-the-point article. My personal favorite opinion is also in there. It’s a comment made by Monsignor Charles Fahey, 76, a Catholic priest currently chairman of the board of the National Council on Aging:

“What I have said is that if I cannot say another prayer, if I cannot give or get another hug, and if I cannot have another martini – then let me go.”

Maybe we should put that martini provision in the bill.

via Health care overhaul bill Q&A.