Slippery slopes in flat countries--a response.
In response to the paper by Keown and Jochemsen in which the latest empirical data concerning euthanasia and other end-of-life decisions in the Netherlands is discussed, this paper discusses three points. The use of euthanasia in cases in which palliative care was a viable alternative may be taken as proof of a slippery slope. However, it could also be interpreted as an indication of a shift towards more autonomy-based end-of-life decisions. The cases of non-voluntary euthanasia are a serious problem in the Netherlands and they are only rarely justifiable. However, they do not prove the existence of a slippery slope. Persuading the physician to bring euthanasia cases to the knowledge of the authorities is a problem of any euthanasia policy. The Dutch notification procedure has recently been changed to reduce the underreporting of cases. However, many questions remain. (+info)
Water pollution and human health in China.
China's extraordinary economic growth, industrialization, and urbanization, coupled with inadequate investment in basic water supply and treatment infrastructure, have resulted in widespread water pollution. In China today approximately 700 million people--over half the population--consume drinking water contaminated with levels of animal and human excreta that exceed maximum permissible levels by as much as 86% in rural areas and 28% in urban areas. By the year 2000, the volume of wastewater produced could double from 1990 levels to almost 78 billion tons. These are alarming trends with potentially serious consequences for human health. This paper reviews and analyzes recent Chinese reports on public health and water resources to shed light on what recent trends imply for China's environmental risk transition. This paper has two major conclusions. First, the critical deficits in basic water supply and sewage treatment infrastructure have increased the risk of exposure to infectious and parasitic disease and to a growing volume of industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and algal toxins. Second, the lack of coordination between environmental and public health objectives, a complex and fragmented system to manage water resources, and the general treatment of water as a common property resource mean that the water quality and quantity problems observed as well as the health threats identified are likely to become more acute. (+info)
Using perinatal audit to promote change: a review.
Close to half of all infant deaths world-wide now occur in the first week of life, almost all in developing countries, and the perinatal mortality rate (PNMR) is used as an indicator of the quality of health service delivery. Clinical audit aims to improve quality of care through the systematic assessment of practice against a defined standard, with a view to recommending and implementing measures to address specific deficiencies in care. Perinatal outcome audit evaluates crude or cause-specific PNMRs, reviewing secular trends over several years or comparing rates between similar institutions. However, the PNMR may not be a valid, reliable and sensitive indicator of quality of care at the institutional level in developing countries because of variations in the presenting case-mix, various confounding non-health service factors and the small number of deaths which occur. Process audit compares actual practice with standard (best) practice, based on the evidence of research or expert consensus. Databases reviewing the management of reproductive health problems in developing countries are currently being prepared so as to provide clinicians and health service managers with up-to-date information to support the provision of evidence-based care. Standard practice should be adapted and defined in explicit management guidelines, taking into account local resources and circumstances. Forms of process audit include the review of care procedures in cases which have resulted in a pre-defined adverse outcome, know as 'sentinel event audit'; and the review of all cases where a particular care activity was received or indicated, known as 'topic audit'. These are complementary and each depends on the quality of recorded data. The forum for comparing observed practice with the standard may be external, utilising an 'expert committee', or internal, in which care providers audit their own activities. Local internal audit is more likely to result in improvements in care if it is conducted in a structured and culturally sensitive way, and if all levels of staff are involved in reviewing activities and in formulating recommendations. However, further research is needed to identify the factors which determine the effectiveness and sustainability of perinatal audit in different developing country settings. (+info)
International developments in abortion law from 1988 to 1998.
OBJECTIVES: In 2 successive decades since 1967, legal accommodation of abortion has grown in many countries. The objective of this study was to assess whether liberalizing trends have been maintained in the last decade and whether increased protection of women's human rights has influenced legal reform. METHODS: A worldwide review was conducted of legislation and judicial rulings affecting abortion, and legal reforms were measured against governmental commitments made under international human rights treaties and at United Nations conferences. RESULTS: Since 1987, 26 jurisdictions have extended grounds for lawful abortion, and 4 countries have restricted grounds. Additional limits on access to legal abortion services include restrictions on funding of services, mandatory counseling and reflection delay requirements, third-party authorizations, and blockades of abortion clinics. CONCLUSIONS: Progressive liberalization has moved abortion laws from a focus on punishment toward concern with women's health and welfare and with their human rights. However, widespread maternal mortality and morbidity show that reform must be accompanied by accessible abortion services and improved contraceptive care and information. (+info)
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis and the 'new' eugenics.
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PID) is often seen as an improvement upon prenatal testing. I argue that PID may exacerbate the eugenic features of prenatal testing and make possible an expanded form of free-market eugenics. The current practice of prenatal testing is eugenic in that its aim is to reduce the numbers of people with genetic disorders. Due to social pressures and eugenic attitudes held by clinical geneticists in most countries, it results in eugenic outcomes even though no state coercion is involved. I argue that technological advances may soon make PID widely accessible. Because abortion is not involved, and multiple embryos are available, PID is radically more effective as a tool of genetic selection. It will also make possible selection on the basis of non-pathological characteristics, leading, potentially, to a full-blown free-market eugenics. For these reasons, I argue that PID should be strictly regulated. (+info)
Food safety in the 21st century.
The global importance of food safety is not fully appreciated by many public health authorities despite a constant increase in the prevalence of foodborne illness. Numerous devastating outbreaks of salmonellosis, cholera, enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli infections, hepatitis A and other diseases have occurred in both industrialized and developing countries. In addition, many of the re-emerging or newly recognized pathogens are foodborne or have the potential of being transmitted by food and/or drinking water. More foodborne pathogens can be expected because of changing production methods, processes, practices and habits. During the early 21st century, foodborne diseases can be expected to increase, especially in developing countries, in part because of environmental and demographic changes. These vary from climatic changes, changes in microbial and other ecological systems, to decreasing freshwater supplies. However, an even greater challenge to food safety will come from changes resulting directly in degradation of sanitation and the immediate human environment. These include the increased age of human populations, unplanned urbanization and migration and mass production of food due to population growth and changed food habits. Mass tourism and the huge international trade in food and feed is causing food and feedborne pathogens to spread transnationally. As new toxic agents are identified and new toxic effects recognized, the health and trade consequences of toxic chemicals in food will also have global implications. Meeting the huge challenge of food safety in the 21st century will require the application of new methods to identify, monitor and assess foodborne hazards. Both traditional and new technologies for assuring food safety should be improved and fully exploited. This needs to be done through legislative measures where suitable, but with much greater reliance on voluntary compliance and education of consumers and professional food handlers. This will be an important task for the primary health care system aiming at "health for all". (+info)
Great expectations: historical perspectives on genetic breast cancer testing.
Women who test positive for a genetic breast cancer marker may have more than a 50% chance of developing the disease. Although past screening technologies have sought to identify actual breast cancers, as opposed to predisposition, the history of screening may help predict the societal response to genetic testing. For decades, educational messages have encouraged women to find breast cancers as early as possible. Such messages have fostered the popular assumption that immediately discovered and treated breast cancers are necessarily more curable. Research, however, has shown that screening improves the prognosis of some--but not all--breast cancers, and also that it may lead to unnecessary interventions. The dichotomy between the advertised value of early detection and its actual utility has caused particular controversy in the United States, where the cultural climate emphasizes the importance of obtaining all possible medical information and acting on it. Early detection has probably helped to lower overall breast cancer mortality. But it has proven hard to praise aggressive screening without exaggerating its merits. Women considering genetic breast cancer testing should weight the benefits and limitations of early knowledge. (+info)
The relation between funding by the National Institutes of Health and the burden of disease.
BACKGROUND: The Institute of Medicine has proposed that the amount of disease-specific research funding provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) be systematically and consistently compared with the burden of disease for society. METHODS: We performed a cross-sectional study comparing estimates of disease-specific funding in 1996 with data on six measures of the burden of disease. The measures were total mortality, years of life lost, and number of hospital days in 1994 and incidence, prevalence, and disability-adjusted life-years (one disability-adjusted life-year is defined as the loss of one year of healthy life to disease) in 1990. With the use of these measures as explanatory variables in a regression analysis, predicted funding was calculated and compared with actual funding. RESULTS: There was no relation between the amount of NIH funding and the incidence, prevalence, or number of hospital days attributed to each condition or disease (P=0.82, P=0.23, and P=0.21, respectively). The numbers of deaths (r=0.40, P=0.03) and years of life lost (r=0.42, P=0.02) were weakly associated with funding, whereas the number of disability-adjusted life-years was strongly predictive of funding (r=0.62, P<0.001). When the latter three measures were used to predict expected funding, the conclusions about the appropriateness of funding for some diseases varied according to the measure used. However, the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, breast cancer, diabetes mellitus, and dementia all received relatively generous funding, regardless of which measure was used as the basis for calculating support. Research on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, perinatal conditions, and peptic ulcer was relatively underfunded. CONCLUSIONS: The amount of NIH funding for research on a disease is associated with the burden of the disease; however, different measures of the burden of disease may yield different conclusions about the appropriateness of disease-specific funding levels. (+info)