Alone, It’s Interesting. With Context…

It is absolutely horrifying.

I came across this picture on IFLScience. It was in the thumbnail of the article, and I thought to myself… hmmm. That’s an interesting picture. It’s clearly an X-ray of an adult’s head. But… what’s that extra stuff? An artefact? Something from an item of clothing that he or she had not removed before taking the X-ray?

The image I am referring to is this one.

Which was then followed by this one.

You see it, right? There is something off about this X-ray.

So, what is this image really of? Do you really want to know?

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The UK Starts to Push Back

Parental consent is a legal gray area, one that different countries tackle in different ways. How much legal authority can a parent have over their child’s life? Where do the wishes of a parent end and the rights of a child independently of their parent’s wishes begin?

Generally speaking, parental consent is supposed to end when harm begins. As straightforward as that sounds it is actually anything but, and different countries allow different levels of leeway before the courts step in and determine that a parent cannot make a certain decision for their child. For example many countries allow parents to decide to physically discipline their children while others, like Sweden, do not allow any form of corporal punishment. Some countries allow parents to refuse certain kinds of medical treatment on behalf of their children based on their personal or religious beliefs, while others do not.

A few days ago, a UK court set a legal precedent by ordering a mother to vaccinate her two sons after determining that her concerns were not reasonable.

We all know that certain children cannot be vaccinated for a variety of legitimate medical reasons. Children who are severely immunocompromised, for example, or children who have an allergy to a component of the vaccine. Her concerns were not based on a suspicion of any real medical diagnosis, however. She was refusing to vaccinate her children on the basis that they are vegan, toxin-free, and that their strong immune systems would inherently protect them against all those nasty diseases anyway.

I am so very, very glad that the judge came to this decision.

As happy as I am that these two boys will receive proper preventative care, it must be said that their father was a strong defender of their health in this case. He brought the case forward, he testified that she was over-protective, paranoid and mistrustful of conventional medicine, and he fought for their ability to be vaccinated from the beginning. With a parent on either side of this issue, I am sure that it was much easier for the courts to come to the right decision in this case. But what about children who have the misfortune of being born to two paranoid, overprotective and mistrustful parents? Who will stick up for their right to access to health care? While I love this step in the right direction, the battle for the protection of children’s health is far from over.

I understand that legal intervention into how a parent raises their children must be expanded with extreme caution. A country which nitpicks your parenting choices, or a state-imposed “correct” way to raise your kids is a country that no one wants to live in. However, it is also important to remember that children are people, not property. They may be too young to make certain decisions for themselves, but they are human beings nonetheless, and as such they should have certain rights and protections under the law. Personally, I think that access to lifesaving  health care should be one of those things that every person, regardless of their age, should have a legal right to.

I am curious to see how this story progresses, and if a test case involving both parents refusing to vaccinate their children will come up. Let’s see if the UK courts take a stand on behalf of all children.

 

Kids Who Die For Ignorance

There has been another deadly outbreak of a preventable disease in Europe. This time, it is the measles which is spreading rapidly across Romania, and so far, 17 children have died.

Romania has seen nearly 2,000 cases of measles since February 2016, World Health Organization data shows.

The country’s vaccination rate is 86 per cent, well below the 95 per cent recommended for “herd immunity” against infectious disease.

Romania’s measles outbreak has killed 17 children there, none of whom were vaccinated.

Romania’s vaccination rate has fallen sharply over the last decade, driven in part by a vocal anti-vaccination movement there. The country now has Europe’s highest measles infection rate, and its fifth-lowest vaccination rate.

These stories are becoming more and more frequent, and I cannot stand it when another one comes out. When people spew this anti-vaccination nonsense on social media, I can’t let it go. I will engage that person and explain why they are wrong, and how their beliefs are destroying lives. It is not the same as when someone posts a quote from Mother Teresa, or a belief that nature is sacred and spiritual or what have you. Those are personal, relatively benign opinions. The anti-vaxx movement, on the other hand, is one of the most dangerous campaigns of misinformation in existence.

If you’re not yet convinced, the article goes on to explain how Europe’s protection against preventable disease is falling rapidly.

Of 32 European countries that have had measles cases since February 2016, 22 had measles vaccination rates below 95 per cent.

In January, 84 per cent of Europe’s measles cases happened in seven countries, all of which had vaccination rates under 95 per cent.

About 10 per cent of children with measles get ear infections, which can lead to hearing loss, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warns. About five per cent will get pneumonia, and one in 1,000 will die.

When I talk about these stories, I usually get two main questions.

  1. Why do you bother engaging with anti-vaxx people? Don’t you know that you will never convince them?
  2. Why do you keep bringing these stories up? Aren’t you preaching to the choir? We all agree here that vaccinations are important.

So, let me answer those questions.

  1. I engage with people who post anti-vaxx beliefs on social media because allowing this misinformation to go unchallenged is precisely what has gotten us into this mess. While I understand that someone firm in their beliefs is very unlikely to change their mind, perhaps people who are on the fence and see the post will be less persuaded to become an anti-vaxxer if they see a reasonable exchange, rather than a one-sided pile of bad science and lies. Also, even if it is extremely hard to change someone’s firm belief, they are endangering innocent children with their ignorance, and so I have to at least try.
  2. I bring these stories up for one simple reason. A study was conducted on people who were “skeptical” of vaccine safety. This study, and many others, found that reiterating the science behind why anti-vaxx is bullshit did nothing to change their beliefs, if anything it made things worse. The only thing that made the slightest impact was to show them how bad these diseases can be. In other words, reminding people of the real risks of not vaccinating their children is the only thing that has a hope of bringing those numbers of vaccinations back up.

So, please, share this story. You don’t need to share this post, but share that article, and every other article that you come across which talks about the children that are getting sick and dying because of this nonsense. Maybe, just maybe, you know a new parent who is being swayed by the anti-vaxx argument, and that parent might see those images of those sick kids and think better of it.

It is important to remember that not everyone is iron clad in their convictions, nor is anyone born convinced of anything. You can persuade people if you share information before they become absolutely convinced of falsehoods. You could save a life.

 

 

 

Healthy Sunday Cooking With Crys: Brazilian Bean Salad

Beans, beans, good for the heart

The more you eat them the more you fart

The more you fart the better you feel

So eat your beans for every meal!

Perhaps that was a touch childish, even for me, but that schoolyard rhyme is actually quite accurate. Apart from the fact that beans make you fart, which is a given, they actually are quite good for your heart as well, though indirectly.

Beans are full of dietary fiber, and eating plenty of it is associated with lower body weight and less cardiovascular disease, as it can lower blood cholesterol levels, hence being indirectly “good for the heart”. Beans also contain complex carbs and protein, and taken together these things help feeling fuller for longer. As to why beans also make you fart, I’ll leave that fun fact at the end, which will also include the reason why adding fiber to your diet by buying those powdery products to dissolve in your water is not really the best thing for you.

So, for this week’s healthy recipe, I’ll be making a very easy recipe that I learned when visiting my father in Bahia, a fresh and delicious salad made with black-eyed peas.

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Bad Science: Now That’s a Double Whammy!

Recently, I came across a story that might have just hit the bad science motherload. It refers to an Italian pharmacy, which is authorized by the Italian government to sell products online. One of these products is called Dr. Reckeweg R20, and its product description just about blew my mind. As the article is in Italian, I’ll translate it for you here.

For starters, it is a homeopathic remedy, claiming to contain a product called “Ovaria”. According to the website, this product is made from the extract of ovaries, and is used in the treatment of:

irregolarità mestruali, disturbi del climaterio, deficit di memoria, depressione, disturbi funzionali delle ghiandole, complesso di inferiorità, criptorchidismo, enuresi notturna, impotenza, frigidità femminile, tendenze lesbiche, oligo e azzoospermia, congestioni”

Translation: irregular menstrual cycle, hot flashes, memory deficits, depression, disrupted glandular function, inferiority complex, cryptochidism [a.k.a. the absence of one or both testes from the scrotum], involuntary urination, impotence, female frigidity, lesbian tendencies, oligo- and azoo-spermia, congestion”.

Ooh where to begin.

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You Are Not Alone

I mentioned that, recently, I was helping a friend of mine deal with a mental health crisis. As someone who deals with an anxiety disorder myself, I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, to see no way out, to feel ripped by remorse and worst of all, to feel completely and utterly alone in my suffering. Our society deems mental illness as something rare, secretive and uncommon. Unless you have a “real” mental illness, like schizophrenia, you feel like you are weak, plagued with #FirstWorldProblems, and that if you cannot function in your day to day privilege that the vast majority of the world only dreams of having, then you really should be embarrassed of your pain, and you should hide it from everyone.

Luckily, this antiquated mentality is being challenged, and it is important that as many people as possible know that these thoughts are complete and utter bullshit. A recent study conducted in New Zealand found that a whopping 83% of people experience at least one episode of mental illness from age 11 to 38. These could be either transient, recurring or long-lasting, were of varying severity, but it is becoming ever more clear that having these episodes is not only common, but rather should be dubbed “the new normal”.

Coinciding with ongoing studies, we see an ever increasing number of celebrities who have spoken openly and candidly about their struggles with mental illness. Most recently Wentworth Miller, most famously known for his role in Prison Break, gave a speech about his struggles with depression from childhood to the present day.

 

Given the stigma which is still associated with admitting to mental illness, I applaud Wentworth Miller and all of the public figures who have had the courage to speak openly of their struggles. I think that their honesty, combined with the medical research into this field, will be what finally condemns this stigma to the barrel of yet another embarrassment of our history. I think that these messages, from many different sources, will provide comfort to those who still think that they are weird, weak, abnormal or foolish for being depressed, or riddled with anxiety.

The sheer statistics dictate that many of you reading this have struggled or are currently struggling with a mental illness. I want to remind all of you, you are not alone. What you are feeling is both normal and not founded in reality. Seeking help is not an admission of weakness, it is not the ultimate sign of defeat, any more than seeking antibiotics for your sore throat is. It is simply seeking the help you need to get back to your day-to-day life as quickly, healthily and happily as possible. Don’t despair, don’t blame yourself, and don’t give up. You deserve support, and you deserve to be happy.

The Heart-Breaking Would You Rather

I don’t know if there is anyone out there who has not, at some point in their lives of idle chatter, engaged in a game of “would you rather”. These games vary greatly, from “would you rather sleep with this or that other person”, to “would you rather live through this or that other apocalyptic scenario”. As a teenager, watching my and my friends’ family members age and, for the first time in our lives, confronting death with a semblance of understanding that this will eventually happen to us, the most common form of “would you rather” that came up was one of much discussion and heartbreak.

If you are lucky enough to reach old age, would you rather die of a degenerative disease which steals your mind, or steals your body?

The perspectives that were brought to this discussion varied greatly, and with them were brought the terrible truths of what our elderly relatives were facing. I watched my grandfather die of Alzheimer’s disease, and I saw what it did to my grandmother. One of my classmates was watching his father degenerate with Parkinson’s, another’s aunt with MS, another’s grandmother with a type of violent Sundown Dementia. The discussions were long, sometimes heated, and always left everyone in a thoroughly depressed mood, but somehow we could not keep ourselves from prodding that sore spot as the discussion recommenced a few days later with fresh perspectives and thoughts.

The crux of the argument came down to this: would you rather know what is happening to you, or not? Of course the nuances of this are complicated: most people with dementia go through a terrible time of their lives when they realize that their mind is deserting them, though by the end they at least seem to be blissfully unaware. Diseases that steal the use of your body are sometimes accompanied by unendurable pain, sometimes not, and sometimes are accompanied by feelings of guilt as you know exactly how much of a burden you are on your family members and caretakers, but not being able to do anything about it.

I think it was these discussions that brought my meandering scientific journey to end up in the study of neurodegeneration and aging. It is not about “looking for the fountain of youth”, or the “secret to living forever”, as so many people blithely ask me when I tell them of the topic of my research. It is not so much about prolonging lifespan, but prolonging healthspan, which is so much more important to so many more people than a megalomaniacal wish to live forever. It is because there is no right, no obvious answer to that terrible game of “would you rather”. The fact is, both are terrible.

I cannot imagine the feelings of claustrophobic frustration that people with locked-in syndrome must go through. I cannot bear to think of the early stages of Alzheimer’s that my grandfather went through, that feeling of being so sure of your surroundings then watch them get snatched away from you as your lucidity kicks in for an instant, like living in a perpetual hallucination that you know will only get worse and eventually consume you. Even putting aside the immense costs to society and family of elderly care of such diseases, the suffering that they come with alone inspire me and make me want to contribute to researching ways to if not prevent them, at least mitigate the symptoms.

I sometimes get disdain for my chosen field. “Do we really need to have an even older population?” is one common question. “What about diseases that affect children/the world is too overpopulated anyway/what about global hunger” is another, as if we should all decide what is the single biggest tragedy in the world, all work towards fixing that, and fuck everything and everybody else. To me, I don’t see the suffering of the elderly (and often the not so elderly at all, if we want to consider ALS and MS as examples) as any less deserving of attention than the suffering of anybody else. I do not pretend to swoop in and be the one person to cure Alzheimer’s disease, that would be ridiculously self-important to the point of being Trumpian. But what does get me through the daily grind, and the long hours, and the experiments going sideways just when I’m under pressure is knowing that I am, in my teeny tiny way, contributing to a body of knowledge that will, and is every day, chipping persistently away at this boulder of a problem until there will be nothing left. That does not mean that I see the problem that I am working on as the most important thing in the world, and that everyone should stop what they’re doing to either join me or give me a pat on the back. It means that this is my way of contributing based on what I am good at and what I can do, with only the greatest respect for those who focus on other tasks and other problems to solve based on their talents and expertise.

Elephant in the Room Part IV: The Elephant Has Been Spotted

A few days ago, I posted about a woman who died in Italy of sepsis after miscarrying twins. Her family claimed that she died because the doctor on call was a conscientious objector, and refused to complete the abortion she needed to save her life because he could still detect a foetal heartbeat. The hospital denies the charges, but a manslaughter investigation is still underway to assess whether or not the family’s claims have merit.

While Italian law allows for conscientious objection only in the matter of the voluntary termination of a pregnancy, I pointed out that it should not be allowed under any circumstances, particularly in public hospitals. If performing an abortion goes against your moral values, I argued, you need to go into a different specialization or profession. Similarly, if you are a pacifist and owning or firing a gun goes against your moral code (and Italian law also permits conscientious objection to firearms), you cannot be a police officer. I pointed out that no one was really talking about the deep problems with conscientious objection in the medical field, and how our country has a two-fold problem of Catholic hospitals with emergency rooms, which can lead women needing emergency pregnancy-related care to be brought to those hospitals, and conscientious objectors being hired in non-Catholic public hospitals as well.

Well, the elephant in the room has been spotted at last. The controversy surrounding that poor woman’s death is sparking debate and outrage which is not dying down, and I am finally seeing articles addressing the problem of conscientious objection. A study has been conducted to investigate just how many conscientious objectors there are working in hospitals across the country, and the results are mind boggling.

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Elephant in the Room Part II: And It Happens In Italy

and I am deeply disgusted with my country.

Many of you will be familiar by now with the story of Savita, who died of sepsis in Ireland when she was miscarrying and medical staff refused to cure her due to the fact that they could still detect a foetal heartbeat. Her death understandably sparked worldwide outrage and a national debate, centered around the fact that it is still, to this day, illegal to obtain an abortion in Ireland.

Despite also being a predominantly Catholic country, Italy legalized abortion back in the 1970s. For the first three months, a woman can seek an abortion for whichever reason, and she can get the procedure done in a state hospital. After three months, abortion is legal for medical reasons. While on its face the law provides Italian women with more reproductive rights than in Ireland, it is not true that Catholicism has not left its mark upon it.

Italian law allows for doctors to be obiettori di coscienza, or conscientious objectors. This means that no doctor in Italy is forced to perform abortions contrary to their religious or moral beliefs. While most Italian states require doctors to register as conscientious objectors, thereby making sure that there is at least one doctor per hospital who will perform abortions, this regulation is not very well enforced and women in more conservative parts of the country can find themselves falling through the cracks.

The results, of course, are predictable.

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You’re Going To Make Me Rant About Privilege Again

Arguments from a privileged perspective are, unfortunately, an easy trap to fall into, and both sides of the political spectrum are afflicted with them. Your far right will often make ludicrous arguments from a white, cis hetero male perspective, we have all heard them and torn them apart many times. However it is not fair to deny that we have our own privileged kooks on the left as well. Anti-vaxxers, for instance, are often far to the left, and I have previously posted about how GMO-hate can also fall into this category. Now, I’ve come across another argument-from-privilege meme that is making my blood boil.

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Go fuck yourself, spiritual man.

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