Tag Archive | health

High time for a discussion

It’s not often that we see politicians put their heads above the parapet over the drugs debate, so it’s refreshing to see Durham’s police and crime commissioner Ron Hogg taking a relatively courageous stance by putting the UK’s drugs policy in the spotlight.  Hogg wants to see the introduction of ‘consumption rooms’, where heroin addicts can inject their prescribed heroin in a safe, supervised environment, away from predatory dealers.  Dealers who couldn’t give a shit what is in their shit as long as they are making money.  This is one of those ideas where the down-sides are overshadowed by the benefits.  Evidence from UK trials and other countries have shown that such initiatives can improve the health of users, reduce drug related crime and reduce addiction.

In places like Denmark, consumption rooms have saved lives, not just by intervening in overdose situations, but by providing clean needles, a hygienic environment, and significantly, exposing users to drug counselling services and health professionals.  These are outcomes which every person who wants a better society should like to see.  It seems like a no-brainer: reduce the harm of drug addiction to heroin users and the wider community, whilst at the same time reducing addiction.  Consumption rooms wouldn’t be a magic bullet though, as wider and significant reforms to drug policy are needed.  This might be too bitter pill to swallow for those afflicted with a different addiction: authoritarian self-righteousness.

Usually politicians balk at discussing progressive drug policies, and avoid the appearance of being ‘soft on drugs’ by preferring a punitive approach to addicts, and wagging a moralistic finger at anyone who disagrees.  So kudos to Ron Hogg for trying to make lives better for the Durham’s addicts, their families and communities.  He’s put his political career in genuine harm’s way to make a point worth hearing.  It’s a pity that Northumbria wasn’t also on Ron Hogg’s beat.

Unfortunately Northumbria’s Labour PCC Vera Baird doesn’t see drug addiction in the same way.  Rather than take action, or even add her voice to the call to explore such initiatives further, it appears that she doesn’t see the need, and that a recent drop in recorded heroin use means that the current approach is adequate.  For a PCC who has campaigned so hard against domestic abuse, it seems her approach to heroin addiction is comparatively apathetic.  If reported incidents of spousal abuse dropped, would she dismiss new policies that may help reduce it further?

If nobody talks about drugs and drug addiction, then nothing will be done to make it better.  Drug addicts will remain the victims of addiction, criminals and an overly punitive legal infrastructure.

The ‘war against drugs’ has failed (if there was ever really one) and a new approach is needed.  At least in the North East, Durham seems to be taking the lead.

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Witchcraft in 21st Century UK

This is seriously fucked up:

Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.

It is so far off the scale of wrong.

Presumably if the witchcraft fails, it’s not a god’s fault; the blame lies with the hopeless mug who just didn’t have enough faith.

Recommending that someone abandons medical treatment and replace it with prayers and magic water is ignorant, irresponsible and dangerous.  That should be obvious.  That religious leaders use their authority to do so and with impressionable and pliable young people whilst hiding behind the untouchable shield of faith, demonstrates how despicable religious people can be.

If you believe in fairy tales and magic and you keep it to yourself, you’re at worst eccentric and harming no-one but yourself.  However, if you spread that idiocy and seek to convince other people to stop taking their medicine, it makes you a danger to your fellow human beings.

Whilst it looks like it’s ‘only’ a small number of churches where this occurs, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  You can see how it can grow in an environment and culture where people accept faith healing as a reality, like:

Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.

This delusional bullshit is all too common.

We live in a society where mental illness dressed in mystic robes is given a free pass and access to vulnerable and young people.  If someone gives health advice based on superstition their advice could at least make someone unwell, or at worst, kill.  Religious leaders have authority and power, but they also have responsibility for their actions.  (I say ‘religious leaders’, but the same applies to occult ‘healers’ of all flavours of delusion.) 

If someone gave financial advice based upon manufactured information, they could end up with a prison sentence.  Anyone who advises someone to abandon medical treatment in favour of supernatural spells and wishful thinking deserves the fullest condemnation from our society on the way to a stint inside a prison cell, no matter how well meaning they feel they are.

Death by Papal decree–a faith based initiative

This is terrible.  A pregnant woman, in awful pain and knowing that she wouldn’t be able to carry to full term, asked a doctor to abort her foetus.  She was refused an abortion, not for medical reasons, but for religious reasons.  Her condition worsened.  She asked again, and again.  She was again refused, and couldn’t have the abortion until the foetus had died.  By then it was too late.  Seven days after first being admitted to hospital, she died.

It’s hard for me to comprehend that someone could submit another human being in so much suffering to so much cruelty.

This didn’t happen back in the Middle Ages, in the remote Taliban-controlled mountains of Afghanistan or in an African refugee camp with no medical facilities.  This was in 21st Century Republic of Ireland, in a modern hospital, short of nothing.  Except compassion.

The Republic of Ireland; a modern, civilised western country.

Savita Halappanavar is a victim of a repressive theocratic state and an uncaring doctor who put the pronouncement of a Pope before the well-being of a patient, before the survival of a fellow human being.  This is a death which could have been avoided with a relatively simple treatment.  Except that simple treatment is illegal in a country where the laws are driven by dogma and faith.

I know it will be of no consolation to her family, but hopefully the Republic of Ireland will learn from Mrs Halappanavar’s tragic death, and that it’s people seek to reform their barbaric abortion laws.  And hopefully, it will be a warning and a lesson for us here in the UK of what could happen here if the likes of Jeremy Hunt and Nadine Dorries (and others who seek to remove the reproductive rights of women) got their way and reduced abortion limits.

Missing inaction

One of our MPs is missing

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the petition for the Drop The Bill motion to be debated in Parliament.  Despite the petition breaching the 100,000 limit for the motion to be discussed, the committee deciding on Commons business, loaded with Tories and Lib Dems, refused to let the motion pass into debate.  There’s democracy for you, and a clear illustration that the government e-Petitions scheme favours public motions which fit the Tory agenda.

So the battle to save the NHS continues.  Next up, was last week’s debate on the motion to publish a report into the risks the NHS is facing as a result of Lansley’s slash and burn plans.  Rather than publish the risk report, which is usual, the government has decided to keep it secret.  That should be enough to get the cynic gland pumping away.

This debate to demand the publishing of the risk report was an opportunity for the opposition to get behind the defence of the NHS and build a momentum for the fight.  The motion to publish the report was beaten by the government 299 to 246.  That’s not a surprise.  The usual opposition faces were there; Andy Burnham, Ed Miliband, Diane Abbott and Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn.  Green MP Caroline Lucas was there too.  It wasn’t until later though, that I found out through the excellent 38 Degrees, that one local MP was missing:

no vote from David Miliband

where's Mili?

That’s right, South Shields MP David Miliband didn’t vote, which was confirmed by Hansard.

It’s disappointing that a Labour MP, working in a constituency like South Shields with more than it’s fair share of poverty, one which would feel the full force of Lansley’s demolition of the NHS, couldn’t turn up on behalf of the people who voted him in.

Kill the Bill and save the NHS

After the Second World War, our country introduced probably one of the greatest post-war legacies – the National Health Service.  After the tyranny of fascism was crushed by citizen soldiers fighting for a common cause, so did the post war Labour government attempt to eradicate the tyranny of a privatised health system which meant the poor couldn’t access the medicine and care the rich could afford.  For the first time, everyone had equal access to health provision.

Along with the creation of the Welfare State, it was a watershed moment for British society.

Now we are at another watershed moment.  Currently the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition is conspiring to dismantle the NHS and hand it over to the vultures of privatisation in the form of Andrew Landsley’s health and social care bill, a bill which David Cameron is determined to force through Parliament with every tool at his disposal.

For a government which has so far operated with such brazen dishonesty, it’s easily more troubling than even Baroness Warsi’s loveletter to theocracy.

We’ve seen what private health provision has done for women given the PIP breast implants.  As soon as private cosmetic surgery firms were found sharp dealing with the implants, they walked away from their responsibilities, whilst the government refused to intervene.  Lansley’s bill would absolve the government of responsibility for the NHS, and abandoned patients to the cruel contempt of the market.

This bill doesn’t need tweaking, it needs dropping completely.  It won’t make the NHS better or improve patient care.  In fact, it’s designed to benefit everyone else in the NHS business cycle long before patients.

It comes down to this.  If the NHS is to survive, Lansley’s bill must be stopped.  The Lib Dems can’t be relied on to have a moderating effect – indeed if they did, this bill would never have seen the light of day.  Neither, sadly, can we rely on Labour to mount an effective opposition.  It seems like whenever Labour has a chance to be an opposition, Ed Miliband wimps out of delivering a killer blow, and instead tries to appeal to the average Daily Mail reader.

I don’t often sign petitions, and never mid e-petitions; I’ve become terribly cynical of them.  Politicians have a nasty knack of weaselling out of responding to them by misrepresenting the motivation for them, or worse, bending the petitions to suit their own agendas.

However, this petition here is worth spending a minute of your life – to save lives – and to show not just David Cameron, but every politician, how much we want to keep the NHS.    The petition description has no caveats or grey areas.  It couldn’t be simpler.  It just says:

“Drop the Health Bill”

[This petition] “Calls on the Government to drop its Health and Social Care Bill.”

If you want to save the NHS, not just for yourself but for future generations, please go here: Drop the Health Bill

We must protect the legacy we have been given – and pass it on to our children and theirs.

Circumcision: suffer little children

A few months ago I made a comment on Curly’s blog, where I made a somewhat clumsy yet robust case against Curly’s call for blind respect for religion in the interest of social cohesion, where I argued that there are many features of religions that aren’t worthy of our respect in a liberal civilised society.

A respondent on Curly’s blog, Lalon Amin, took my comment as being anti Islam, and tried to engage in some spirited apologetics against something I didn’t say.  Nowhere in my comment did I specifically mention Islam as most of the features I described could be found in several religious societies, although some of the behaviours can be seen in some Islamic subcultures.

An aspect I wanted to explore further is non-therapeutic routine infant circumcision.  Infant circumcision is a hot-button topic in the USA in the moment, after San Francisco was denied the opportunity to hold a referendum on the banning of non medical infant circumcision, and a petition to ban non-therapeutic routine infant circumcision on the Whitehouse website is generating plenty of debate.

Fortunately, male infant circumcision is much lower here in the UK than it is in the USA, but like the USA, the UK has banned female circumcision.  I think it’s long overdue for non-medical infant male circumcision to be banned in the UK.

To a large extent circumcision is a cultural phenomenon, but one which is often justified through the interpretation of religious texts, and supervised and enforced by clerics and social pressure.

Freedom of and freedom from religion are necessary in a civilised society, but religious freedom should not include the right to inflict ritual surgical alterations on children.  Outlawing non-therapeutic routine infant circumcision would protect children and allow them to make their own choice when they become adults.

There’s an argument that it’s up to parents to decide if their child is circumcised or not.  However, the same logic could be applied to parents who want to withhold medical treatment from their child.  To some people it might seem like an intervention too far, but in some cases children need to be protected from their parents’ beliefs.

In terms of the claimed medical benefits of male circumcision, the evidence is far from conclusive.  Circumcision advocates seem to cherrypick the research that confirms their biases.  It’s not without irony that some people will try to use science to find confirmation for their religious doctrine.

However, even if the evidence did confirm that circumcision provided some protection from HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, circumcision doesn’t provide anywhere near the same protection as barrier protection methods, and it still should be the decision of an adult to have a circumcision.

That’s the key point.  Non-medical circumcision should be an adult’s decision over their own body.  Circumcising children takes that basic right away from them and makes an irreparable change to a child’s body.  Individual right to freedom requires that such physical abuse on those who can’t defend themselves from religion, culture or social convention should not be permitted in a civilised society.  Non medical circumcision children should be banned.

The wrong trousers

It seems like there are plenty of people who believe that their special interest should be respected as if it was a special need.  Take midwife Hannah Adewole, who thinks that she should be excused the rules other medical staff have to follow because she’s a Christian.

Adewole thinks it’s disrespectful to expect her to wear scrub trousers because apparently, god told her so.  Deuteronomy 22:5 says:

“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.”

Deuteronomy is a lot of fun.  As well as a gender dress code, the fashion advice extends to forcing you have tassels on your cloak and a ban on mixing wool with linen.  What a style faux-pas.  Add to that the Leviticus bans on piercing and tattoos, and looking fabulous whilst keeping the bible fashion police happy in iron-age Israel must have been a minefield of stonings.

The punishments in Deuteronomy are tough.  There’s loads of purging of evil and stoning, but on the plus side, lots of helpful guidance on how to treat your slaves.  However, women had to know their place.  If a woman grabbed a man’s wedding tackle in a fight, her hand had to be chopped off.  Less eye for an eye, more chop-off for a chopper.

Adewole is no lilly-livered liberal Christian.  She is full on hardcore:

“I believe that the Bible is truth and that its words should be followed wholeheartedly.”

You’ve got to admire her dedication.  But if I was her employer, I would be concerned about her wholehearted support for stoning and cutting limbs off.  Even more worrying for a midwife is someone who believes in the truth of a book which contains a psalm praising the bashing-in of babies’ heads.  Actually, there’s a bit of child murder and enslavement going on in that book.

But all of this theological nonsense isn’t what really matters.  Most of the time when religion keeps to itself it’s harmless and doesn’t matter much to those who don’t believe.  However, sometimes it overlaps into real life and we see the ‘respect’ vs reality battle end up being fought out in the courts.  I consider the respect narrative used by some Christians to be phoney, especially when they use the worn out ‘you wouldn’t do that to Muslims’ argument.  Using the courts to try and lever religion into areas it doesn’t belong whilst playing on a false sense of persecution seems to me incredibly dishonest.  It’s almost as if some Christians want to be persecuted, whether it’s over their choice of dress or jewellery, or the services that they are expected to provide to others.  The bottom line to me is that your religion is fine, as long as you keep it personal, and not try to force it on others, and in this case, through illiberal legal gambits.

What is worrying in this case is that someone in the medical profession thinks that their personal ideology based on ancient mythos trumps hygiene and safety rules; rules introduced to protect patients from infection.  Should such a person be working in a hospital?