Saturday, January 2, 2010

Challenging Ireland's new but disturbingly archaic blasphemy laws

In the midst of the biggest economic challenge this State has ever faced last year, the Fianna Fáil/Green government and more specifically Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern passed legislation making blasphemy a crime punishable by law with potential fines of €25,000 for individuals found to be "blaspheming."

What exactly is blasphemy? The new Irish law defines it as "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted". It's not hard to imagine the work of many noted musicians, philosophers or comedians falling foul of such a vague description.

This is a frightening development in a supposed modern secular democracy. Given the economic troubles we all faced last year, perhaps the new laws caused less outrage amongst the general public than might have been expected.

Now that the law has come into force, it's good to see that some people are taking action. The Guaridan reports that a group called Atheist Ireland are challenging the new laws with the publication of 25 anti-religious quotes on their website. It will be interesting to see whether this results in an attempted prosecution over the coming weeks.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

72 million CTs performed in the US in 2007 will ultimately cause 29,000 cases of cancer

KevinMD blogs about a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluding that “roughly 72 million CT scans performed in the U.S. in 2007 will ultimately cause some 29,000 cases of cancer.”

These figures are not surprising to radiographers or radiologists in the EU, where radiation protection forms an integral part of training. We're trained to expect that any exposure to ionizing radiation needs to be justifiable. I've never worked in the USA, but anyone I know who has says that this culture of justifying radiation exposure to patients is not as well developed there.

But even here in Europe, the discussion regarding these investigations and interventions are held between referring physicians and radiographers/radiologists. The patient is by and large completely removed from the debate. Why is this the case? Surely this is the kind of paternalism modern medicine has moved away from? We involve patients in ever more detailed discussion of risk/benefit ratios when it comes to their medications or proposed surgeries, but why do we not discuss the risks of ionizing radiation with them?

Iris Robinson Quits Politics Due To Depression

I'm no fan of Iris Robinson's politics. Her comments in 2008 describing homosexuality as an "abomination" and recommending gays attend a Christian psychiatrist for "a cure" were some of the most offensive, ignorant words I have ever heard an elected representative use.

However, I take no joy in her anounced decision to retire from public office. I am glad she has been open and honest about her reasons for retiring, naming bouts of severe depression as the main factor behind her decision.

For too long in this country, depression and mental health problems in general have remained taboo subjects that perhaps subconsciously, we continue to avoid and hide. To name the "Black Dog" openly is a positive development in the world of politics. Hopefully, Iris Robinson's honesty will contribute to a new openess in society regarding mental health.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

TV3 reports that Brian Lenihan has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

TV3 reported on their 5.30pm news bulletin that the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

In a particularly poor piece of broadcasting, even by TV3's admittedly low standards, political correspondent Ursula Hannigan boasted that TV3 could have broken this story on Christmas Eve but held off out of respect for Brian Lenihan's family.

Well done St. Ursula. You truly do embody the Spirit of Christmas.

TV3 then highlighted a press release from the Department of Finance highlighting that the Minister's health is a personal matter and that he is spending Christmas with his family and will not comment on the matter until the New Year.

Personally I think it is shameful that TV3 have decided to break this story so quickly, at Christmas time and so obviously against Brian Lenihan and his family's wishes. I accept that the public has a right to a certain amount of information regarding the health of its political leaders but it appears Brian Cowen has just recently been given this terrible diagnosis and in fact the extent and spread of his disease and likely prognosis might well not even be fully known.

As someone who has had to break news like this to many patients and has seen the agony families go through, particularly in the immediate aftermath and when the full prognosis is not yet certain my heart goes out to him and his family that they have the added suffering of watching this speculation on their TV sets over Christmas. I cannot see how anyone would argue that the public interest outweighs Brian Lenihan's right to privacy and patient confidentiality at this moment in time.

Professor John Crowne, an eminent oncologist at St. Vincent's Hospital in Dublin with well documented grievances with the current government also appeared on TV3 news this evening as a "cancer expert" and gave a factual and accurate account of the harsh realities and poor prognosis associated with pancreatic malignancy. TV3 were careful not to use Brian Lenihan's name when interviewing Crowne and he made no specific mention of the Minister. This means he has technically not broken any ethical obligations or Medical Council guidelines regarding confidentiality but again, I personally think that being involved in this "outing" of a young man who has very recently been diagnosed with a terrible illness is poor form as far as I'm concerned.

My rant is now over, and my thoughts are with Brian Lenihan and his family.