Friday, February 3, 2012

Bioethics Poetry, Katy Giebenhain edition

Glucose Self-Monitoring

A stabbing in miniature, it is,
a tiny crime,
my own blood parceled
drop by drop and set
on the flickering tongue
of this machine.

It is the spout-punching of trees
for syrup new and smooth
and sweeter
than nature ever intended.
It is Sleeping Beauty's curse
and fascination.
It is the dipstick measuring of oil
from the Buick's throat,
the necessary maintenance.

It is every vampire movie ever made.

Hand, my martyr without lips,
my quiet cow.
I'll milk your fingertips
for all they're worth.
For what they're worth.

Something like a harvest, it is,
a tiny crime.

Katy Giebenhain

(This poem first appeared in Prairie Schooner; used by permission of the author)

Komen Re-funds Planned Parenthood, Sorta

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure folks have reversed themselves on the question of funding Planned Parenthood's breast-cancer screening and mammography referral services. A statement released today said the foundation was revising its no-funding-for-people-under-investigation policy so as not to include political, as opposed to criminal, investigations. (As I blogged earlier, there's an ongoing congressional investigation into the question whether Planned Parenthood uses any federal funds for abortions, and Komen originally pointed to the existence of that investigation as a reason for discontinuing funding.) The statement said nothing about another reason Komen has given for the de-funding of Planned Parenthood, namely, that they don't provide mammography services directly, but only make referrals for them. The statement says funding for Planned Parenthood will continue to flow under existing agreements, and that Planned Parenthood will remain eligible to apply for more funding in the future. It remains to be seen whether Planned Parenthood's angered constituency will revise its views on Komen as quickly as Komen has revised its grantmaking policy.

UPDATE: This piece has persuaded me that there's less of a reversal here than meets the eye. Komen never intended to renege on existing commitments to Planned Parenthood, so saying they're going to continue funding them isn't any change. Saying Planned Parenthood is eligible to apply for further funding is, in fact, a reversal of their "no money to folks being investigated" policy, but isn't a guarantee that funding will flow. We'll see how many grants are actually made to Planned Parenthood in the future....

ANOTHER UPDATE: Further evidence that there's less to this "reversal" than meets the eye is here. And here, too.

Friday Frivolity, Dental Competence Edition

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Romney on Stem Cells

I blogged recently about Newt Gingrich's recent attacks on human embryonic stem cell research, and his intention to investigate and regulate the practices of IVF clinics which create excess human embryos. The news item led me to wonder what Mitt Romney's stem-cell position is. Not surprisingly, it's bounced around a bit.

In his gubernatorial race of 2002, Romney was a supporter of embryonic stem-cell research, and even promised to lobby President Bush for increased research funding in the area. But after a conversation with some Harvard researchers who, Romney often claims, had no moral qualms about destroying two-week-old embryos, he changed his position. Indeed, he credits the stem-cell debate with pushing him toward his current pro-life abortion position. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Romney formulated his current position, namely, that it isn't unethical to use "excess" embryos from IVF clinics for embryonic stem-cell research, but that he opposes government funding for such research, and opposes any laboratory creation of embryos (by cloning or otherwise) for research purposes. This page gathers a number of quotations from Romney on the issue over the years.

He has spoken in favor of shifting research from human embryonic stem cells to induced pluripotent stem cells, since the latter research involves no embryonic destruction. He has also made mention several times of "altered nuclear transfer," the purported "scientific solution" to the ethical problem of embryonic stem-cell research promoted by William Hurlbut, a Stanford professor and member of President Bush's bioethics committee. Altered nuclear transfer essentially produces a severely disabled embryo which cannot develop into a human baby; Hurlbut argued that using ANT embryos thus avoided the problem of killing a viable embryo. Pro-life organizations briefly endorsed, and then pulled away from, the Hurlbut proposal. (There's a website touting ANT here; and brief discussion halfway down this page of the political reception by pro-life groups of Hurlbut's proposal.)

This recent item from Fox News takes Romney to task for continuing to invest in Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical firm which uses some stem cells in its research, up until 2010--in spite of having taken a position against embryonic stem-cell research in 2007. But I think that's just a mistake. Romney, as far as I've been able to find, has never taken a comprehensive position opposing all human embryonic stem-cell research. He isn't opposed to privately-funded research on leftover IVF embryos. He opposes laboratory embryo creation, and he opposes the public funding of any embryonic stem-cell research.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Komen Defunds Planned Parenthood

By now anyone who spends any time on the net is aware that the leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has decided to pull all funding for breast cancer screening from Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is saying that the move is a cave-in by Komen to pro-life political pressure. Komen has responded that the move isn't political; it's just that they have a new policy of not funding organizations that are under investigation, and Planned Parenthood is under a (highly political) investigation by Congress about whether they're violating the Hyde Amendment by using federal funds for abortions.

A few of the more interesting tidbits from the web:

A number of pieces, including this one, and this rather less mild one, about how the decision was influenced by Komen's new senior VP, Karen Handel--a pro-life former Republican candidate for the Georgia governorship, endorsed by Sarah Palin; pieces like this one, claiming that the immediate outcry from Planned Parenthood supporters has already resulted in PP recouping much of the money it won't get from Komen, and may deliver a real long-term blow to Komen; pieces like this one, showing enthusiasm for Komen's move among some religious and pro-life groups; articles like this one, and this, detailing past Komen-related controversies, like suing other charities for using "cure" and pink ribbons at their events, and lending their support to unhealthy products like KFC ("because nothing says that you care about women's health like a big vat of fried chicken"); this meta-coverage of the Internet/Social Media response to the news; and this story about a dissenting Komen affiliate group in Connecticut.

I'm guessing, along with many others, that Komen will emerge a loser here, and that Planned Parenthood will benefit significantly from the anger stirred up in its pro-choice base--and from the sense in the broader women's health community that Komen's political move threatens access of the poorest women to preventative breast-cancer screening.

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

This piece from the Guardian lists the top 5 regrets of dying patients, as recorded over the years by an Australian palliative care nurse named Bronnie Ware. The five most-frequently heard regrets were these:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Look at the article for a bit more detail, or read Bronnie Ware's book. More importantly: be true to yourself, don't work so hard, say what you're feeling, look up those old friends, and smile.