How will this ruling shape efforts and resources to reverse the obesity epidemic? Will treating obesity as primarily a medical problem narrow the scope of possible interventions?
[Los Angeles Times] The American Medical Assn. voted Tuesday to declare obesity a disease, a move that effectively defines 78 million American adults and 12 million children as having a medical condition requiring treatment.
The nation’s leading physicians organization took the vote after debating whether the action would do more to help affected patients get useful treatment or would further stigmatize a condition with many causes and few easy fixes.
In the end, members of the AMA’s House of Delegates rejected cautionary advice from their own experts and extended the new status to a condition that affects more than one-third of adults and 17% of children in the United States.
“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately 1 in 3 Americans,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, an AMA board member.
[The Guardian] A group of senior American doctors has called on military physicians at Guantánamo Bay to refuse to work in a mass force-feeding programme that is being used to keep hunger-striking detainees alive.
Writing in the prestigious and influential New England Journal of Medicine, the three doctors called Guantánamo “a medical ethics free zone” and said that medical staff had a moral duty to allow the prisoners to go on hunger strike without coercing them into treatment. They also called on doctors to refuse to take part in force-feeding.
“Military physicians should refuse to participate in any act that unambiguously violates medical ethics,” wrote Dr George Annas, Dr Sondra Crosby and Dr Leonard Glantz, in a three-page article outlining an ethical case against force-feeding of the detainees. All three are senior medical professors at Boston University.
The doctors urged others in the American medical profession to speak out on the issue and provide support for any army doctor who might refuse to participate in the procedure. The article said:
“Military physicians who refuse to follow orders that violate medical ethics should be actively and strongly supported … Guantánamo has been described as a ‘legal black hole’. As it increasingly also becomes a medical ethics free zone, we believe it’s time for the medical profession to take constructive political action.”
[Boston Globe] A group of Boston doctors is proposing to join a study that would provide emergency treatment for brain-injured patients without obtaining the trauma victims’ consent, arguing that they often arrive at the hospital unconscious or without family members who can speak on their behalf.
Federal law and the generally accepted ethics of medical research require that patients or their surrogates be told about any risks of participating in a study and have the chance to refuse enrollment. But the law allows for an exemption in certain cases involving emergency care.
This would be the first study using the exemption at a Boston hospital since the Food and Drug Administration created the rules allowing it in 1996, said Dr. James Feldman, an investigator and the chairman of a Boston University Medical Campus panel that reviews research.
Research without consent is controversial, and some ethicists argue that it is almost never appropriate. “People don’t expect to be researched on when they go to an emergency department, and they don’t consent to research just by being in an accident,” said George Annas, a BU bioethicist who is not involved in the brain trauma proposal.
The study team, from Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, is hoping to join a national trial looking at whether giving the hormone progesterone to patients in the hours immediately after a traumatic brain injury could prevent further neurologic damage.
[International Business Times] The Belgian Federal Parliament is reportedly about to expand its controversial “right to die” policies to include access to euthanasia for some gravely ill children.
A consensus among members of the legislative body has reportedly formed in support of legislation to allow children to choose to undergo euthanasia in certain dire cases, according to a report in the Belgian daily newspaper Der Morgen, as translated by the Paris-based news agency Presseurop.
If child euthanasia is legalized in Belgium, the country would become the first in the developed world to have a law on the books allowing the practice, although the Netherlands has since 2005 not prosecuted doctors who perform euthanasia on some minors as long as the doctors act in accordance with a set of medical guidelines dubbed the Groningen Protocol.
[FierceHealthcare] When it comes to quality and patient satisfaction, nonprofit church-owned hospitals outperform their public and for-profit counterparts, thanks in part to their religious mission, according to study results released this week by Truven Health Analytics.
Researchers evaluated hospital performance by ownership and found patients in nonprofit church-owned hospitals had shorter lengths of stay, better mortality rates, and higher levels of overall satisfaction than those receiving care in for-profits and government-run facilities.
The study showed not-for-profit church-owned hospitals provide more balanced performance and value to their communities. While for-profit hospitals did best in providing lower expenses and higher profits for shareholders, they performed significantly worse than peers on patient satisfaction. Government hospitals, meanwhile, scored the worst in overall performance
“As healthcare becomes increasingly transparent, performance differences that stem from mission and role considerations, such as not-for-profit church-owned or for-profit, are likely to play an increasingly greater part in consumer decisions,” Jean Chenoweth, Truven’s senior vice president, said Tuesday in a statement.
[NBC News] The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that natural human genes cannot be patented by companies, but it said that synthetically produced genetic material can — a mixed ruling for the biotechnology industry.
A naturally occurring piece of DNA is “a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” the court said.
The case centered on a Salt Lake City company called Myriad Genetics that was granted patents for isolating two human genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, that indicate a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The company now markets tests for those genes.
BRCA1 is the gene carried by actress Angelina Jolie, who determined after a test that she was at higher risk of developing breast cancer and chose to have a double mastectomy.