America’s doctors leaning left, and other medical news

A Higgs boson walks into a church.

The priest stops it and says, “Sorry, my son, but we don’t allow Higgs bosons to worship here.”

The Higgs boson replies, “But, Father, without me how can you have mass?”

Think of most doctors as stodgy old right-wingers? Many of us are, but a surprising number are middle of the road, and some are almost progressive.

However, the physicians in federal government often tend to be conservative Tea Party types or Libertarians (wannabe Republicans who want to avoid the stigma of the name “Republican,” or actual Republican doctors in Congress. We’ve heard a lot from a few of them (the Pauls) and seen the results from some others, like Rep. Scott DesJarlais. But there are signs that more of America’s doctors are coming around to the progressive side of various issues.

For example, the American Medical Association, in the last few years, has pointed out areas in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are underserved, and has formed a GLBT Advisory Committee, has a site for GLBT health resources, and is working on things like GLBT outreach.

Internationally, lots of progressive doctors are politically active. Unidentified people holding gay marriage support banner at protest on August 11 2012 in Brisbane, Australia. paintings /

Internationally, lots of progressive doctors are politically active. Unidentified people holding gay marriage support banner at protest on August 11 2012 in Brisbane, Australia. paintings /

Also, the AMA is supportive of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), and is working to help implement it by supplying information to doctors, and advocating for it with local governments. They are also providing information for doctors to share with their patients regarding the ACA.

A recent poll in the Journal of the American Medical Association asked if hospitals that accepted federal funds should be required to provide birth control and, possibly, abortion services for their patients, regardless of the hospitals’ stance on those issues. Last time I checked, about 66% or physicians who responded said that hospitals should have to provide these services.

The New England Journal of Medicine, in its October 4th, 2013 edition, has an editorial called “The ACA Standoff.” The NEJM is one of the most widely respected medical journals in the world with a history that goes back a few hundred years.

The reason for the government shutdown is a political standoff over funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Since the United States is a democracy, the best way to reopen the government — which provides numerous important services in the health sector, such as approval of drugs, devices, and diagnostics, surveillance for emerging infectious diseases, research into the biology and treatment of disease — is to make your views known to your representatives in Congress. Your voice will become part of the wave that eventually spurs the House of Representatives to act.

Sadly, not all doctors have seen the light. Signs at a Doctor's Tea Party Rally at Spanish Landing in San Diego, CA on Saturday August 7, 2010. (oconnelll /

Sadly, not all doctors have seen the light. Signs at a Doctor’s Tea Party Rally at Spanish Landing in San Diego, CA on Saturday August 7, 2010. (oconnelll /

As a medical journal, we do not have an official opinion on whether the ACA is a good or bad thing. As physicians practicing in Massachusetts, where a program similar to the ACA has been in place for a number of years, we strongly support it. Before reform in Massachusetts, we saw too many patients who were devastated by a freak accident or an unexpected diagnosis of cancer; we saved bodies and bankrupted lives. Now, when fate strikes a cruel blow to citizens of Massachusetts, we can fix their bodies and preserve their lives. To us, supporting the ACA makes moral and medical sense. All of us will need medical attention at some point in our lives. When that point comes, we should not have to worry about whether we can pay for it.

As health care professionals, we are very close to the issues that have our government in shutdown. We must lead by example. The well-being of our patients depends on it. Let your representative know that you are in the health business and where you stand.

A forceful and powerful opinion.

These beginnings might help us get more liberal physicians into government over time.

In some other medically related information:

* Did you know that Lysol used to be recommended as a vaginal douche and abortifacient? Lehn and Fink, Lysol’s makers at that time (pre-1950s), recommended it for that purpose in spite of a number of deaths associated with its use for “feminine hygiene.” The mind boggles.

* 4,000 year-old human brains found in (reasonably) good shape. They were boiled in the skulls of their owners and that, along with some other factors, preserved them fairly well. Possibly well enough to allow for study to see what kind of pathology might have been going on in people that long ago (tumors, strokes, infections and other possibilities).

* Science spoof. I wrote a while back about some issues with scientific research being deliberately incorrect, plagiarized, falsified and generally untrustworthy. Some creative authors deliberately tried to get falsified (and easily verified as such) scientific papers published. And they succeeded – in dozens of journals. Read about one of the “authors,” “Ocorrafoo Cobange” of the “Wassee Institute of Medicine,” here.

* And finally, because of the governmental shutdown, more people will die. (Please see Becca Morn’s excellent piece on the shutdown and how it affects research at the National Institutes of Health). Because of the Republicans’ fiscal irresponsibility, the NIH, CDC and many other government health/medical agencies have been hamstrung. Enrollment in clinical trials has halted. Many of these trials have to do with cancer therapies. For the enrollees, these trials may be a last shot at getting a few more months of life, or, in very rare instances, a cure.

These people don’t have time to “wait out” the shutdown.

Even more cruel, if possible, is that some of these patients, knowing that their chances of survival are limited, may want to enroll to help scientists gather data. Data that may be useful in treating future cancer patients. This may be a last attempt by some of these cancer sufferers to make a contribution to others before they die.

Tremendously sad.

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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