Death wish for boomers & elders?

Reaching for the hemlock in order not to be a burden…. this seems a little farther than most of us want to go. But the idea is crossing more than a few aging minds, reports CNN intern Sachin Seth on a recent blog.

Rather than burden their children with the daunting task of caring for them as they age, some baby boomers may be considering an extreme form of “relief.” Suicide.

Psychiatrist Mark Goulston says he’s been approached by some middle-aged patients who say they’d rather “take a bottle of pills” than inconvenience their children.

Dr. Goulston blames the problem on the impatient nature of “millennials” – the offspring of baby boomers – a trait he says was passed down from the boomers themselves.

Adding to their angst is their own experience of taking care of elderly parents, which sometimes leads to feelings of resentment. Baby boomers don’t want their own children to grow to resent and begrudge them when they get old and feeble.

There’s a video exchange between Goulston and CNN’s Don Lemon that’s worth watching, but won’t lift your spirits much.

Add to this don’t-be-a-burden dilemma — and it IS a dilemma that crosses the mind of everyone over 60 and most folks who have a parent over 60 — the bizarre situation of estate taxes right now and the whole business of dying gets seriously complicated. It was okay last year, when you knew estate taxes were magically going to disappear on January 1, 2010, so the focus was on staying alive until then.

Is your cell phone frying your brain?

OK, if you think it’s all just a lot of hysterical hooey about cell phones & radiation, you can click on to another page. But this op ed piece by public health expert Joel Moskowitz (with Diana McDonnell and Gene Kazinets) in the San Francisco Chronicle got my attention. Moskowitz is the Director of U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health.

A huge, 30-year study called COSMOS has been launched in Europe to determine whether cell phones cause cancer and other health problems. Meanwhile, policymakers in Sacramento are considering legislation to ensure people know how much radiation their cell phones emit. The wireless industry vigorously opposes such legislation. It argues that its phones comply with regulations, and there is no consensus about risks so people don’t need to know this. Our research review published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found alarming results to the contrary.

We reviewed 23 case-control studies that examined tumor risk due to cell phone use. Although as a whole the data varied, among the 10 higher quality studies, we found a harmful association between phone use and tumor risk. The lower quality studies, which failed to meet scientific best practices, were primarily industry funded.

The 13 studies that investigated cell phone use for 10 or more years found a significant harmful association with tumor risk, especially for brain tumors, giving us ample reason for concern about long-term use.

Do federal regulations adequately protect the public? The 1996 Federal Communications Commission regulations are based upon the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), a measure of heat generated by six minutes of cell phone exposure in an artificial model that represents a 200-pound man’s brain. Although every cell phone model has a SAR, the industry doesn’t make it easy to find it. Moreover, children, and adults who weigh less than 200 pounds, are exposed to more radiation than our government deems “safe.”

So just for fun, I got out the 107-page User Guide that came with my cell phone. Full disclosure: my cell phone is turned off unless I’m out walking or traveling; it takes pictures but it doesn’t do apps. Still, those 107 pages say it can do all the fancy Stuff.

On page 81 I found the SAR data. Even if I wanted to decipher the very small print, there is no way any of it would be meaningful to a lay reader. It does say that “Your wireless phone is a radio transmitter and receiver. It is designed and manufactured not to exceed limits for exposure to radio frequency (RF) energy set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the U.S. Government.”

I do try to trust the U.S. Government. But since they once sent my then-Marine husband double-timing out of a foxhole toward an A-bomb blast with a radiation tag hung around his neck in the ’50s, it would appear we have long been open to experimentation about radiation damage. (He survived. The animals positioned closer to the blast site did not. No one will ever be certain how much damage was sustained by those Marines wearing radiation tags… but then, who knew we’d keep right on storing bombs and fighting senseless wars anyway?)

Another what-can-you-believe? comes from CNN’s medical guru Sanjay Gupta in this line from a two-year-old commentary on potential cell phone radiation damage still up on his blog:

Over the last year, I have reviewed nearly a hundred studies on this topic, including the 19 large epidemiological studies. I urge you to do the same and read carefully to see what you think. Here is an example from a Swedish paper showing no increased risk of a brain tumor, known as acoustic neuroma. (see study) As you read the paper, you will find they defined a “regular” cell phone user as someone who uses a cell phone once per week during six months or more.

Once a week? Hello? Even in Sweden, even a decade ago, did anyone with a cell phone not use it at least once an hour? This very old study did have a timeless conclusion: “Our findings do not indicate an increased risk of acoustic neuroma related to short-term mobile phone use after a short latency period. However, our data suggest an increased risk of acoustic neuroma associated with mobile phone use of at least 10 years’ duration.”

Moskowitz argues that it’s time to revamp FCC regulations, pointing out that it is not just heat transfer but also variations in frequencies emitted that could cause damage.

Most of us know something about potential damage lurking in our Stuff. But we tend to be slow learners, and our regulatory agencies tend to be even slower. Having just lost a greatly loved sister, a long-time smoker, to pulmonary failure, Moskowitz’ concluding paragraphs hit home:

We should address this issue proactively even if we do not fully understand its magnitude. Our government has faced similar public health threats in the past. In 1965, although there was no scientific consensus about the harmful effects of cigarettes, Congress required a precautionary warning label on cigarette packages: “Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” More specific warnings were not required until 1984: “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.”

Should we have waited 19 years until absolutely certain before we informed the public about these risks?

Although more research on cell phone radiation is needed, we cannot afford to wait. There are 285 million cell phones in use in this country, and two-thirds of children over the age of seven use them. Manufacturers bury the SAR within their owner’s manuals, along with safety instructions to keep your phone up to an inch away from your body.

Nine nations have issued precautionary warnings. It is time for our government to require health warnings and publicize simple steps to reduce the health risks of cell phone use.

Why not?

Government must inform us of cell phone risk.

Public Option Dead? Barbara Lee Says No

You think the public option for health coverage is dead? Try telling that to Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Never known for going along (she was the lone member of Congress to vote against giving President Bush a virtual blank check to go to war after 9/11) or for mincing words, she wants it known that no health reform battle — other than that for single-payer — is over.

“It’s all about give and take,” she said tonight; “we gave single payer.”

The Representative from California’s 9th District was at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club to talk about her new book, Renegade for Peace and Justice.  But the conversation with KQED TV host Belva Davis and the Q&A session with a largely friendly audience tilted immediately, and  heavily, toward health reform. Has the Administration lost control of the debate? Not in Lee’s opinion. “Mainstream media coverage has been very biased,” she observed in opening the Q&A session. “The focus has been on the ruckus made by a small percentage of people, who probably didn’t vote for President Obama. I didn’t see CNN covering my Town Hall meeting.”

Because “we spent over a trillion dollars on this war that didn’t have to be fought,” Lee said, the issue of health reform is now “all about choice, and about competition.” And before either of those get to the public, congressional give-and-take will lead to a final bill. As current Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and member of several powerful committees, Lee expects to play an active part in that process. “We will insist on a bill that has a strong public option,” she says. “At least 60 members are saying the public option is key to their support.”

The new book was enjoying brisk sales, but health reform comments drew the loudest applause. One audience member told me at the end of the event that “Congresswoman Lee won’t ever get medals for moderation, but I’m not throwing in the towel if she’s not.” We were both leaving a few minutes before the final gavel; he said he was on his way home to start sending out more e-mails.