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Contraception NOT a health issue?

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I’m a white male who has been complaining about the male-dominated discussion about birth control over the past weeks. But I’m still going to write about birth control and pregnancy. You can skip this if you want.


I don’t know who Conrad Black is. According to his Wikipedia entry, he is Canadian, is the Baron Black of Crossharbour, and was once the third largest newspaper magnate in the world, which coupled with his 80s movie villain picture doesn’t give me a favorable impression of the man. Anyway, he wrote an article titled Obama: Leviathan 2012 for the National Review, which included the following sentence, and I am aghast at such a statement:

“Birth control is not a health issue at all; pregnancy is not a disease or an illness and termination of it is not a cure to a medical problem.”

He is, of course, discussing President Obama’s tussle with the Catholic Church over paying for birth control and the “Pearl Harbor nature” of such a move. And that he takes the side he does is not controversial or alarming. We just disagree.

But in doing so, The Baron seeks to disassociate pregnancy and birth control and women’s issues, as they say, from real health problems, and portrays women fighting for these issues as nothing more than noisy, pestering “abortion tigresses” infringing on the rights of the the Bishops of the Catholic Church and undecided voters. This almost knocked me out of my chair. The idea that contraception and pregnancy, that reproductive issues in general, are not health issues is a  horrible, vile idea. And anyone who has seen the potential impacts of a pregnancy on a woman and still believes that pregnancy and birth control are not health issues should be ashamed of themselves.

It doesn’t matter what one thinks about free access to birth control, employer paid reproductive /abortion services, religious freedom vs. government mandates for birth control coverage, or anything on the that issue. Such things are not related to the question of HEALTH.  But to frame the argument that pregnancy and birth control, even abortion, are not health related is a fiction, and an incredibly dangerous one at that.

I found Conrad Black’s article in the National Review quite disgusting. Not the politics of it but the way he speaks about women and pregnancy. Maybe it’s because I’m young, and there’s just a generational difference on such matters. Maybe it’s because I work in non-profits, and he’s a Baron and wealthy newspaper magnate. Maybe it’s because I fail to understand the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t know. But when I read this, I see language that should make people very nervous:

By misrepresenting contraception as a health issue and hiding abortion behind it, and unleashing the feminist ravers as the shock troops against the religious denominations to shred the First Amendment, it will propose a giant step in the complete emasculation of any independent religious moral authority, or any institutional dissent from the absolute moral fiat of the federal state.

Ho. Ly. Shit. As Mrs. TRC pointed out, for Mr. Black these challenges from the wild and crazy women to the religious status quo are equivalent to becoming an effeminate, un-whole, castrated male.

Access to birth control is a health issue. And  pregnancy is not a disease, but is a dangerous health issue. All it takes is one rip in the condom, one failed birth control pill, and a woman’s life is in danger. The idea that pregnancy is just a happy-go-lucky process to bring smiling babies into the world is wrong. It’s a serious health issue. Preventing unwanted pregnancies is a serious health issue. And pretending otherwise does no one any good.


Written by Christopher ZF

February 24, 2012 at 16:40

Derek Boogaard and the Athlete’s Brain

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There are certain things the human brain is purposed for. Reason and creativity and logic and love and science and philosophy and poetry and all kinds of beautiful, helpful, weird and wonderful human activities. All on account of that most vital of organs.

These are the things the brain can do, if we choose. Then, there are the things we do to the human brain. Like make a career as a lineman in the NFL, or as an enforcer in the NHL. This is not to imply that these are bad choices. I’m a sports fan, after all. But they are clearly choices that impact the brain.

And it is the choice Derek Boogaard made, as he took the enforcer role for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. Boogaard died in May, 2010 at 28. The tragic and unfortunate death of Derek Boogaard provided a rare opportunity for scientists at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy to examine the young brain of an NHL enforcer.

Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease and has been diagnosed in the brains of more than 20 former football players. It can be diagnosed only posthumously.
The researchers at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy who examined Boogaard’s brain said the case was particularly sobering because Boogaard was a young, high-profile athlete, dead in midcareer, with a surprisingly advanced degree of brain damage.

Did the CTE in Boogaard result directly from his years as an NHL player? It’s impossible to draw and 1 to 1 connection, and is complicated in Boogaard’s case by his occasional drug use. But the BU Center has found CTE in all four deceased NHL players they have examined. With more than 20 diagnoses in former football players, the NFL has taken notice, as anyone who has watched the increasing conservatism of the rulebook regarding blows to the head and diagnoses of concussions is aware. But the NHL seems to be less convinced by the research linking athletes and CTE.

McKee has examined nearly 80 brains of former athletes, mainly retired football players and boxers who spent their careers absorbing blows to the head. The center’s peer-reviewed findings of CTE have been widely accepted by experts in the field. The NFL, initially dismissive, has since donated money to help underwrite the research…
The NHL is not convinced that there is a link between hockey and CTE.
“There isn’t a lot of data, and the experts who we talked to, who consult with us, think that it’s way premature to be drawing any conclusions at this point,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the Times. “Because we’re not sure that any, based on the data we have available, is valid.”
The researchers at Boston University say that CTE is a nascent field of study, but that there is little debate that the disease is caused by repeated blows to the head. They said that the NHL was not taking the research seriously.

I have no idea whether Derek Boogaard died because was a fighter in the NHL. It is hard to imagine a 28-year-old hockey player dying and finding brain trauma at the levels Boogaard showed, and not see a connection, but my instincts are irrelevant to medical science. And yet, it seems the link between brain trauma and professional sports has to be at least acknowledged by the NHL. It may not be the best reflection on your sport. But if the science points towards a dangerous, life-threatening reality for your players, the NHL owes them at least acknowledgment and caution in regards to protecting players’ futures.  If NHL takes such precautions, hopefully our professional athletes will be able to live a long life, full of the possible wonders that the human brain provides.

More: Derek Boogaard: A Brain ‘Going Bad’

Written by Christopher ZF

December 6, 2011 at 10:51

Posted in medical science, sports

Why the Internet is awesome: Rhys Morgan and the Burzynski Clinic

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Sometimes I hate the internet. Some days, it’s just a space filled with nonsense and bilge.

And then there are days like today, where you do a quick morning round up, and end up learning something new and being inspired. That happened to me this morning, when I found a courageous young man standing up for sound science. It is a worthy story, and I thought I’d share the path.

On the morning blog routine is Bad Astronomer, where I read the post “‘Alternative’ cancer clinic threatens to sue high school blogger.” The story is about a 17-year old British high-school student named Rhys Morgan. Morgan suffers from Crohn’ Disease, and keeps a blog about his life, health, and treatment, among other things. One of those things is the Burzynski Clinic, a cancer treatment center in Texas that apparently offers very expensive cancer treatments that are not based on sound medical research. I’d never heard of it.

So Morgan posted about this place. He wrote a post in August titled The Burzynski Clinic, and cataloged the criticisms of the treatment, called antineoplaston treatment. Among them are: it has been in clinical trials for 30+ years, has no FDA approved treatments, and has been called “scientific nonsense” by the Allegheny Cancer Center in Pennsylvania. Morgan also points out the tragedy of taking money from desperate people in need of hope, even as he understands that attacking the Clinic could take away more hope. It’s an excellent piece, handling sensitive but critically important issues, written by a young man who can speak to the difficulty of illness.

Needless to say, this was not taken to kindly by the Burzynski Clinic. As Rhys Morgan chronicles in his latest post, Threats from the Burzynski Clinic. Read that one. It’s long, but worth it. In it, Morgan copies the exchanges between himself and a representative of the clinic, who is threatening to sue Morgan for libel.  The exchange is remarkable if for no other reason than the tactics. It begins with a cease-and-desist and ends with the clinic’s threats attached to a photo of Morgan’s home from Google Maps.The ‘lawyer’ acts as though he is God, and that any opposition, especially from a high-school student, deserves to be ridiculed, bullied, and belittled.

But still, this is a threat of legal action, from a successful, if scientifically sketchy, cancer clinic. I was actually inspired (something that doesn’t happen often on the internet) by reading the back and forth. Morgan holds his ground, acts responsibly, and stands up for science and the law. Kudos to this young man, and shame on the Burzynski Clinic for their bullying, brutish behavior.

As a final note to the greatness of the inter-webs, I googled this story to see what else there was to read about Rhys Morgan. I found this story by BoingBoing, where they discuss other threatening claims from the clinic.

The BoingBoing article ends with a warning to the Clinic about an online feedback loop in which any attempt to remove content from the internet only generates publicity, and leads to the explosive reproduction, sharing and the spread of that content. Today, TRC and all the others picking up this story are proof that it works.

The effect is named after Barbara Streisand, who attempted to have a photo of her home removed from the internet. To show the true impact of this loop, there is a wikipedia page titled: the Streisand Effect. It features prominently the photo of Barbara Streisand’s home.

*NOTE: I’m not particularly interested in people’s opinions on alternative medicine. Like anti-vax and other scientific ‘controversies’, it’s an argument that cannot move in any direction, and thus is not particularly enlightening. Please save your anecdotes for another blog.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 29, 2011 at 11:33