Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Week: With liberty, justice, (and Plan B) for all

By now, many of you probably heard the news. On Friday, President Obama approved Secretary Sebelius’ partial annulment and revamp of the regulations regarding health professionals’ ability to refuse medical treatment on religious or moral grounds. The treatments in dispute are those of frequent controversy in our country: contraception, abortion, general family planning treatment and HIV/AIDS treatment for homosexual patients. Back in 2005, pharmacists and untreated patients were up in arms over the morning-after pill. As a 2005 WaPo article reported, there were countless pharmacists who refused to dispense Plan B even to married couples, because it violated their religious or moral beliefs. On the other side, were women who wanted to medically and safely stop a pregnancy they had not planned or were unprepared for. Like Kathleen Pulz, who requested Plan B after realizing the condom broke during intercourse with her husband, countless women had to go from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to obtain the medicine, or at least a referral for a medicine they were old enough and responsible enough to use. 

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s leave out those women who rely on Plan B as their main pregnancy prevention. That irresponsibility most definitely weakens the arguments of those who truly need help to be available at all times. At issue are those responsible individuals who have every right to family planning treatment, those who need HIV/AIDS treatment regardless of their sexual orientation, and the healthcare workers who abuse their power and impose an ethics lesson instead of providing medical treatment. 

Opponents to the legislation, like Republican Rep. Joe Pitts who is also a major adversary of the Affordable Care Act, argue that there will be more attacks on the conscience of medical workers. Jonathan Imbody, VP for government relations for Christian Medical Society is worried that health professionals can be fired on discriminatory grounds by those who do not support life-affirming health care. And to them, I say- duh! No, it’s never ok to fire someone strictly on the basis of what, or in whom, they believe. But, it’s also never ok to refuse to perform in-vitro fertilization for a woman because her life partner is a woman and not a man. So what will level ensure fair and equal opportunity to treatment, unless physicians and nurses are made to do their job regardless of whether they agree with their patient’s lifestyle or not? If an accused murder is brought into a hospital with a knife in his chest, it is a doctor’s obligation to save his life. The woman holding the scalpel must do what her medical degree and white coat ensure she can do; whether or not the murderer is dealt justice can be decided by a court of law, or God himself. 

In the new bill, the provisions that protect from prosecution recipients of federal funding who refuse to use those monies to perform abortions or sterilizations were not removed. Also protected are internship or residency applicants who refuse to perform or participate in abortions or sterilizations. No entity that receives government funding is allowed to deny an applicant on these grounds. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services is still responsible for receiving complaints of discrimination or coercion rooted in the conscience protection statutes. 

In less than 30 days, when the bill becomes law, hopefully we see a shift toward more equality in the treatment of all patients, regardless of their race, gender, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. Wouldn’t you argue that it’s quite hypocritical for someone with such high moral character to refuse to use their talents as a medical professional to help someone in need? It’s hard to play the neutral party in this one, when so many people need an advocate for justice. 

So, what say you?

View the regulations here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This Week: The Kids Aren't Alright

The epidemic of childhood obesity hit this nation like an over-capacity elevator hits the floor. At their age, school children should not be expected to know enough or have the maturity to make choices that will most benefit their health. Without prompting, some adults may not be able to make those choices, either.  Since most Americans 16 and under spend the majority of their daylight hours in and around a classroom, it only makes sense to incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily school regimen.

The Virginia House of Delegates took a running start in the right direction with their new bill. If signed into law, by 2014, there will be a mandatory 150 minutes per week of physical education in all Virginia public elementary and middle schools. I’m not by any means a full-fledged grown-up, but the world of difference I see makes me feel like it was lifetimes ago that my mother had to force me to come inside from our street hockey games. Now the flick of a wrist is made with a virtual hockey stick, from the comfort of the family room. The way I grew up, kids didn’t have choices. Those who knew better, taught us to do better. I hope we realize that someone has to come up with a solution and actually do something about, instead of just talking about, childhood obesity. We can’t watch documentaries and talk shows and pity “those people”, when those people are growing (in size and quantity) every day. Airlines offended us when they made overweight individuals pay for more than one seat on a flight. We watch, from our couches no less, with amusement as our fellow Americans vie to be the biggest loser. Virginia took matters into its own hands when television shows and airline fines did not do the trick. As Americans, we are probably most sensitive about people telling us how to raise our kids. Well, 31% of Virginian 10-17 year olds obese or overweight is not anything to brag about. As Delegate James M. Scott said, “parents need a little help.” So, why not change the status quo? 

The opposing team is mostly comprised of school officials who are worried about what the cost of these new mandates will do to already shrinking school budgets. If kids’ waistlines aren’t shrinking, there really is no argument to be made. When mortality from diabetes and heart disease is not shrinking, there is no argument to be made. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a lofty paycheck to supervise a game of basketball, as substitute teachers do it in the place of “PE Coaches” every day. It may sound to some like big government infringing on our personal freedoms. To others, it may be the sound of fewer nickels rubbing together in their pockets. But, to me, 150 minutes a week of sweaty 6th graders’ sneakers wearing out a gymnasium floor sounds like a healthier nation. Game on!

Monday, February 7, 2011

This Week: The State of the (Dis)Union

Happy Black History Month, everyone. Another year, another 3rd grade class memorizing the "I Have a Dream" speech. The Super Bowl this weekend will be sure to feature ads about the American spirit, supporting our troops, and of course a stellar national anthem before kickoff. This is one of those days of the year when all Americans come together to do what we do best- eat and cheer for our team! Like the fabric of the Super Bowl team uniforms, our nation is comprised of every shade from black and white to yellow and green.

The theme of the George Washington University's 2011 Black History Month celebration is Marked, and is supposed to serve as a springboard for discussion about all of the different ways in which black Americans have been marked and "how they're still signaled [sic] out today". Our markings come from an incomplete portray by the media of what it means to be African-American. Even the first edition of the highly celebrated CNN Black in America special showed more of the desolation and desperation that black Americans face in the country, than it did of the triumphs and achievements. In a public health setting, black Americans are often marked by statistics showing immense disparity between us and every other race represented in this nation. From HIV/AIDS prevalence to low birth weight, black Americans consistently come out in last place.

Labels and markings have also spurred disagreement within the black community itself. Forgetting for a moment that there is strength in numbers, we pit good hair against nappy hair, light skin over dark skin, and even immigrant blacks over African-Americans. Is there a need for one group to assimilate entirely just because our ancestral origin is the same? Absolutely not. We know that collard greens and calaloo may come from the same plant, but taste entirely different. The African diaspora is the same way. Our roots are the same, but we've sprouted into individually thriving and uniquely beautiful plants. The most important thing that we have in common is that we call the United States home. So, different as we may be, that fabric would be weaker without the thread that each and every one of us contributes.

Simply blaming "the media" for an inaccurate portrayl or ignorant perspective is not enough. We will make no changes by pointing fingers or waving white flags. Opening up the floor for discussion is a great start. Even in a recent BPHSN meeting, the topic was raised about how to have these real conversations with individuals who may have never been exposed to anything or anyone outside of their comfort zone. In the classroom, the library or student lounge, there are opportunities for globilization even among those with whom we share a building every day. Further, we should feel free to speak candidly about what it is that makes us different, and how our individual contributions have strengthened the nation as a whole. That, I believe, is really what Black History Month is all about. Learning our history, reciting speeches and singing the Negro National Anthem are all ways in which we can honor and celebrate our past. Moving forward, we must all individually contribute to building understanding so that our future is just as rich.  The work we have to do is what our kids will learn about and reenact during their Black History Month celebrations. Let us have patience to teach others about where we've come from, where we are, and then show them where we are going.
“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda