News Capsules (Spring 2001)

Compiled by Medical Sentinel Editors
Article Type: 
News Capsules
Spring 2001
Volume Number: 
Issue Number: 

Big Brother is Watching You

"Render the following in B-movie, staccato-style German and see if it reminds you of anything:

'Your vehicle was seen traveling on southbound I-95 near I-195 on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Please provide the following information:

'Where were you going? Who was with you? What was the purpose of your trip?'

"No, it wasn't an updated version of the Gestapo. It was the text of a Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA) letter sent to 48,000 drivers whose cars had been identified, via roadside cameras, as they trundled down I-95 last month.

"The drivers in question were not speeding; they had violated no traffic laws. But they were observed, identified and recorded nonetheless for 'information purposes' only, of course. The MTA, it seems, is conducting a new kind of traffic survey, making full use of the creepy and intrusive technology now available to bureaucrats whose sense of other people's privacy is not particularly keen. Roadside cameras are all over the place, increasingly recording our every move - literally."

(Washington Times, October 23, 2000)

Dutch Parliament OKs Euthanasia

"The Dutch Parliament approved a bill legalizing euthanasia on November 28, 2000, positioning the Netherlands to become the first nation to openly let doctors help suffering patients end their lives.

"Advocates of patients' right to die voiced praise for the vote, but many Christian groups and others condemned it, led by the Vatican, which said the law 'violates human dignity.'

"Fending off concerns the Netherlands could become a haven for patients from abroad seeking to end their lives, Dutch officials stressed that foreigners would be unable to meet strict standards under the law for allowing euthanasia.

" 'There is no possibility for foreigners to come here for euthanasia,' said Wijnand Stevens of the Justice Ministry. 'The criteria call for a long term doctor-patient relationship. They are just too strict for that.'

"All 100 seats in Parliament's public gallery were full for the vote, in which legislators announced their votes aloud as requested by a Christian party opposed to the bill.

"After the 104-40 vote in Parliament's lower house, the bill was expected to win approval by the upper house early next year and become law.

"With the law, the Netherlands would formalize the tolerance it has long held toward euthanasia. Thousands of cases are reported every year here and many more go unreported. In 1993, legislators passed a set of guidelines that doctors could follow to carry out euthanasia and, it was understood, go unprosecuted.

"Still, euthanasia was a crime punishable by up to 12 years in prison. The new legislation largely adopts the informal guidelines, which say the patient must be feeling unrelenting suffering and know all the medical options."

Other countries enacted euthanasia or assisted suicide despite ethical questions that remained unanswered. The article continues, "Australia's Northern Territory approved the practice in 1996, but the federal Parliament revoked the law in 1997. In Oregon, voters approved doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in 1994. Since the law took affect in 1997, 43 people have died in assisted suicides there. The House of Representatives passed a bill in October that would restrict the practice, but it faces a possible veto."

As I have said for years, death is the ultimate form of rationing:

" 'It's cheaper to kill people than to take care of them,' scoffed Lori Hougens of the Washington-based National Right to Life Committee, adding: 'We are very, very saddened by the law.' "

The article makes it explicit that no consent is needed. "But the bill does not stipulate that the patient's suffering must be physical, leaving room for unbearable mental suffering to be sufficient cause. It also does not require the patient's disease be terminal.

"Patients will also be permitted to leave a written request giving doctors the right to use their own discretion of whether to carry out euthanasia when patients themselves can no longer decide."

In effect, this committee will assume the power of a deity. "A committee consisting of at least three people, including a physician, a lawyer and an expert in medical ethics, will review cases to ensure the criteria are met.

"Patients as young as 16 can seek euthanasia in consultation with their parents, and children aged 12-15 must have parental consent, the Justice Ministry said."

(New York Post, November 28, 2000,


Vatican Response to Dutch Euthanasia Law

"The approval by Dutch legislators of legalized euthanasia 'is a sad record for the Netherlands,' the Vatican said. In statements to the press, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls explained that 'the approval of a law, which violates the dignity of the human person and places legislators in opposition to public opinion, is a sad record for the Netherlands.' "

The same report further quoted Navarro-Valls as stating, " 'This law contradicts the 1948 Geneva Declaration of the World Medical Association, as well as the medical ethical principles approved by 12 countries of the European Community in 1987.' He continued, 'The first problem that the legalization of euthanasia generates has to do with the conscience of doctors. We are faced again with a state law that is contrary to the laws of conscience of each one.'

"Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told Vatican Radio that the Dutch law 'in practice abandons the patient at a moment of desperation...Statistics have shown that these requests for anticipated death in fact are requests for help, for assistance, for human closeness. Those who have overcome this crisis in time have said that they did not want death administered to them, but simply that someone be closer to them.' "

(, December 4, 2000)


U.S. Physicians Approve Assisted Executions

"A substantial number of doctors approve of allowing physicians to take part in executions, even though it violates medical ethics guidelines, a new study found.

"Of 482 doctors surveyed, a majority said they approved of at least one execution-related action opposed by organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM), the study said.

"When asked about specific duties, 43 percent said it's all right for doctors to inject condemned inmates with lethal drugs and 74 percent said it's OK for doctors to pronounce an inmate dead --- a task in which doctors might have to tell an executioner that more drugs are needed to complete the job. Opponents, including the study's lead author, say both actions violate the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.

"The findings appear in the Oct. 23 issue of the AMA's Archives of Internal Medicine. Doctors were randomly selected to get the mail survey, sent to 1,000 doctors nationwide in 1998.

" 'We are troubled by the number of respondents who approved of professional involvement in many aspects of lethal injection executions,' wrote the authors, led by Dr. Neil Farber of Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Delaware."

Both the AMA and the ACP-ASIM believe that it is unethical for physicians to participate in executions. Nevertheless, over the years, their flexible ethical pronouncements which have evolved to fit the times is an explanation why some physicians are now willing to participate in executions. It is one thing to approve of or participate in executions as citizens; it is quite another to use the profession of healing based on Hippocrates' dictum of primum non nocere to carry out executions.

The report also stated that some doctors "feel they have a duty to society to participate."

(Associated Press, October 22, 2000)

Death in Belgium

"More than one in ten deaths in Belgium is due to euthanasia or drugs given by doctors to hasten death, experts believe.

"A survey of deaths registered during the first four months of 1998 revealed that thousands of deaths result from administration of lethal drugs 'without the explicit request of the patient.'

"Euthanasia is illegal in Belgium, though an intense debate on legalization has been continuing for years.

"In a repeat of a study conducted in Holland, researchers from the Free University Brussels and Ghent University reviewed a random sample of all deaths registered over a four-month period...

"They concluded that 705 deaths a year (1.3% of the total) could be attributed directly to euthanasia or 'physician-assisted suicide."

"In as many as 3.2% of cases --- 1,796 deaths --- lethal drugs had been given without the request of the patient.

"And in 5.8% of cases --- 3,261 deaths --- treatment had been withheld with the express intention of ending the patient's life."

(BBC News Online, November 24, 2000)

Government Waste

The federal government has little idea just how many of our hard-earned tax dollars it pays for bills we don't owe. In fact, taxpayers lost nearly $21 billion in 1999 through improper government payments, according to a new report. The General Accounting Office (GAO), the non-partisan arm of Congress, found that 12 federal agencies wasted $20.7 billion last year in improper payments. The GAO cited, among other egregious examples, payments to provide federal benefits to dead people and to make duplicate payments to contractors. In 1998 alone, there were $19.1 billion in improper payments of this type, according to the GAO."

(The Waste Basket, September 29, 2000)


Pentagon Suspends Anthrax Vaccine

"With diminishing supplies and a yearlong delay in a new production facility, the Defense Department has suspended anthrax immunization shots for soldiers in Korea...There are only about 60,000 approved doses left, according to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon --- just enough to vaccinate the 5,000 service members who deploy to southwest Asia.

"Only one company in the nation, BioPort of Lansing, Mich., produces the vaccine. But its new laboratory --- built with taxpayer money via the Defense Department --- has failed repeatedly to win FDA approval. In November 1999, the FDA found more than 30 shortcomings at the production facility...In April 2000, the Pentagon awarded the company $12 million to help its new laboratory pass FDA inspection. That money came on top of the $40 million it gave BioPort to bail the company out of financial trouble last fall....

"Roughly 350 service members have refused to take the shot because of health concerns. Many of them have been discharged from the military. In February 2000, the Pentagon rejected a call from Rep. Christopher Shays' (R-CT) House Governmental Affairs subcommittee on national security to suspend its mandatory anthrax immunization program...until the effects of the vaccine are more closely studied. About 10 countries, including Iraq and North Korea, are believed

to have 'weaponized' anthrax, and more are working on developing anthrax weapons. The anthrax spore is a stable one. It can be used as an aerosol and still maintain its lethality.

(, December 1, 2000)


Your Tax Dollars at Work

"The federal government is paying millions of dollars to empty lots and vacant buildings that are supposed to be providing day care services for the children of the working poor, Agriculture Department investigators have found. Roger Viadero, the Agriculture Department inspector general, has told a Senate panel he has increased auditing of day care centers after uncovering cases in several states where millions in federal funds have been ripped off for non-existent services, or spent subsidizing day care centers in substandard buildings. In one case, investigators found 20 children in a windowless basement room measuring 10 feet by 15 feet. Other facilities were found lacking basic safety equipment like smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and one home was heated by a kitchen oven. Then, there was the $1.7 million in payments for day care services supposedly provided to 200 children. That was the empty lot."

(Scripps Howard News Service, September 28, 2000)


Tobacco Enemies Take Aim at Ritalin

Writing to Reuters, Edward Tobin reveals that, "Richard Scruggs, the lawyer who led the settlement between U.S. states and the tobacco industry in 1998, called the lawsuits against the makers of hyperactivity disorder drug Ritalin the country's 'next class-action battleground.'

"The Mississippi attorney heads up a group of plaintiffs' lawyers alleging in two lawsuits that the makers of the drug had conspired with psychiatrists to 'create' the disease known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

"Scruggs, who got his first taste of national class action suits with a successful run at the asbestos industry before tackling big tobacco, contends that the health of more than 4 million children is at stake because they are taking a drug that they do not need.

"The two cases, filed in state court in Hackensack, N.J. and in San Diego federal court, name Swiss health care group Novartis AG (NOVZn.S), the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and nonprofit support group called Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

"The suits seek class action status and billions of dollars in damages. The allegations are denied by both the company and the APA.

" 'The main complaint is that they (the defendants) have inappropriately expanded the definition of ADHD to include 'normal' children so that they can promote and sell more drugs and treat more people,' Scruggs told Reuters in a phone interview.

'These suits represent the latest class-action battleground in the U.S., but since it involves kids, this is that much more important. Ninety percent of all Ritalin is sold in the United States. We think it's a pretty tough case to say that ADHD is a disease that doesn't exist in Europe, but exits here,' he said.

"Government officials, pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals have debated over the prescribing of Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children for some time. The drug has been on the market for over 40 years, but it came under intense pressure when the White House launched an initiative in the spring to cut down on the number of children using the treatment, known by the chemical name methylyphenidate."

Tobin concludes his article: "An official for the Washington D.C.-based American Psychiatric Association said the APA will 'defend itself vigorously' by presenting a mountain of scientific evidence to refute these meritless allegations, and we are confident that we will prevail.

"Scruggs, who tallied up $400 million in legal fees from the settlement with the tobacco industry, said public health was the main motivator in the Ritalin case, and the ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to change the way the drug is prescribed.

" 'Right now, virtually every child would fit the diagnostic criteria today for Ritalin. They are exploiting the fears of parents for the welfare of children to gain inappropriately, and I think that is very reprehensible and it can have a widespread affect on the health of American kids,' he said.

" 'My sense is that the symptoms of ADHD are pretty well defined and there are a number of clinical criteria required before a child is allowed to go on the drug,' Merrill Lynch analyst James Culverwell said from London.

" 'When the child does take the drug, it is generally remarkably effective. So any suggestion that this disease is make-believe seems highly unlikely,' he said."

(Reuters, September 14, 2000)

Nurses Trained for Open-Heart Surgery

"British nurses could become the first in the world to carry out surgery in open-heart operations, under proposals being drawn up by a joint committee of surgeons and nurses.

"Making more use of nurses could increase throughput for heart operations by up to 50%, and radically reduce the long waiting list for cardiac surgery. Patients can wait up to two years for a heart bypass operation, and there is always a small number who die before they reach the top of the list.

"Nurses, operating theatre assistants and other staff are already being trained to make cuts up to 2in deep and 30in long to transplant/blood vessels from the leg to use in heart bypass operations. Under the new scheme, which will be outlined in a report from the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Nursing later this year, nurses could be allowed to saw through the rib cage and open the chest cavity of heart surgery patients.

"John Williams, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said there was 'huge enthusiasm' for the initiative. 'We had a meeting with Tony Blair, and he made it clear they want to end strict job demarcation as part of the modernisation of the NHS.' "

(The Sunday Times, London, October 22, 2000)

Crime Update in Great Britain

"Use of handguns in crime in England and Wales reached its highest level for seven years in 1999-2000. This is in spite of the ban on private ownership of the weapons introduced in the wake of the Dunblane massacre.

"There were 42 people killed with handguns during the period --- more than in any other year in the 1990s.

"Some 3,685 crimes involving handguns were recorded in 1999-2000, including 42 homicides, 310 cases of attempted murder, 2,561 robberies and 204 burglaries, the Home Office revealed.

"The total was more than one-third (37%) up on the previous year, and the highest level since the Dunblane tragedy in March 1996, when 16 children and a teacher died.

"The details were released in a parliamentary written answer by Home Office Minister Lord Bassam of Brighton.

"A ban on all private ownership of handguns became law in November 1997, but handgun offences have risen each year since then.

"Levels of handgun offences were higher in 1992 and 1993, at 3,997 and 4,202 respectively, but in each year there were fewer homicides than in 1999-2000.

"The higher figures then were down to a far greater incidence of robberies using handguns, which reached a peak of 3,605 in 1993 before falling every year until 1999-2000, when they jumped from 1,814 to 2,561.

(The Guardian United, London,


MSAs Extended

"The House of Representatives passed a two-year extension of tax-deductible medical savings accounts (MSAs) by 292-60 on December 15, 2000, which the Senate approved unanimously by consent. The MSA provision was part of a larger bill that includes other tax breaks...

"The new law will extend MSAs that were set to expire on December 31, with no changes, meaning the restrictive caps and regulations on MSAs are still set."

See also: "MSAs Could Go Mainstream," American City Business Journals,, and "Why I Love My MSA," Daily News of Los Angeles, Both articles by Scott Holleran,


National Police Survey

Last year's survey of 25,000 Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs of the National Association of Chiefs of Police confirms what the NRA, GOA, and other Second Amendment groups have been saying for years - law enforcement supports the citizens' right to keep and bear arms.

Last year's survey showed that 93% of the respondents feel that "any law-abiding citizen should be able to purchase a firearm for sport or self-defense."

The survey also reflected the view of law enforcement that they should be cracking down on criminals rather than imposing more restrictions on law-abiding gun owners.

I bet you didn't hear about this survey in the mainstream media.

(NRA-ILA Fax Alert, August 12, 2000)


Japan and Guns

"Japan has been heralded for some time by gun-ban extremists as a utopia of gun restricutions. However, Japanese criminals are undeterred by the regulations.

"According to an article in The Washington Post (Aug. 11, 2000), Japan's violent crime rate is rising, and the number of serious crimes committed by criminals with handguns this year is expected to exceed last year's record number.

"Japan's murder rate has even surpassed the murder rate in England and Australia, two countries that are also experiencing dramatic increases in violent crime and also have strict gun laws. While Japan has had stringent controls on firearms for centuries --- only the police and military are permitted to possess handguns --- both England and Australia passed in 1996 draconian restrictions on gun owners, including bans on several classes of firearms."

(NRA-ILA Fax Alert, August 12, 2000)


Violence in Schools is Down

Despite the widespread public perception of schools as unsafe and violent, the reality is, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that of the more than 2,000 children who die in acts of violence each year, just 34 died in school-related incidents in the 1997-1998 school year.

(Department of Education, Annual Report on School Safety, School Reform News, Heartland Institute, September 2000)


This edition of News Capsules was compiled by Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Sentinel of the AAPS. It appeared in the Medical Sentinel 2001;6(1):5-9. Copyright©2001 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).

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