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Healthstyles: In Awe of Being Human & Jen Sorensen Political Cartoonist

Tune in to CHMP’s Healthstyles Radio Thursday, April 16th, from 1:00 to 2:00 PM on WBAI, 99.5 FM in New York City and streamed online here. 

In this segment of Healthstyles you’ll hear co-host Barbara Glickstein interview Betsy MacGregor, author of In Awe of Being Human: A Doctor’s Stories from the Edge of Life and Death.  Dr. MacGregor worked as a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at Beth Israel Medical Center for 30 years. She shares reflections on living, healing and dying set amidst the challenging world of hospitals and hospices, the medical professionals who work in them, and the ever-present mystery of life and death. You can find out more about the book here.  Listen to the full interview.

Glickstein then interviews political cartoonist Jen Sorensen a nationally-syndicated political cartoonist whose work has appeared in The Progressive, The Nation, Daily Kos, Austin Chronicle, NPR, Ms., Politico, and many other publications. The recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, she tweets at @JenSorensen

You can listen to the interview

JenSorensen

Healthstyles in produced by the Center for Health, Media and Policy. To hear archives of previous programs search here.

Marijuana Policy

I recently wrote about the Institute of Medicine’s report on Dying in America for the JAMA News Forum. A colleague who read the post pointed me to a PSA that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) subsequently published on having the conversation with family and friends about our end-of-life wishes. At the time, the my computer was not cooperating, so I remembered yesterday that I still needed to view it. I went to the website and found the video. Here is the link: It’s Time to Have the ConversationIt’s quite good and should be shared widely.

But it was the video that automatically popped up after the PSA ended that I found especially intriguing. It was a half-hour IOM video on marijuana policy in the U.S. that provides historical and contemporary views. It’s a fascinating account of how we got to criminalizing marijuana–to the tune of billions of dollars in enforcement costs and untold human costs, particularly for those who were sent to prison for smoking a joint. In one image, the video shows the huge death toll from smoking tobacco and using alcohol, compared with zero deaths from marijuana. The “zero deaths” led me to want more detail on how the deaths for each were calculated, since I imagine that marijuana could be a factor in, for example, a deadly car accident when the driver is a first-time marijuana user. (Years ago, I read a study about the impact of marijuana on driving. It concluded that the danger was in first-time users and that experienced users actually were more cautious in their driving.) However, the video is important because of its straightforward, evidence based presentation and because it’s by the IOM.

The video should be used as a teaching tool for students of policymaking and those who want to understand how the U.S. developed a war on a drug that is probably safer than many of the medications that one can obtain with a prescription (and some that are available over the counter–too many aspirins or tylenol can kill you).

I applaud the IOM for moving beyond what the evidence says on topics and trying to improve how the major messages are disseminated and acted upon. That said, I’m waiting for a member of Congress to discover this video and call for defunding the IOM. Evidence doesn’t seem to matter much in the halls of Congress. Maybe they should smoke a joint.

Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN, Rudin Professor of Nursing

This free performace sparks critical conversations: Playing God: The Rock Opera

Screen shot 2015-04-06 at 9.53.04 PM

The Center for Health, Media and Policy celebrates the role of the arts in contributing to the critical conversations we are having or need to have about health and health policy. That’s why we’re encouraging those residing in the Greater New York metropolitan region to attend the rock-opera, Playing God: The Rock Opera created by Finnish bioethicists and musicians Matti Häyry and Tuija Takala and legendary drummer Corky Laing.

This production is sponsored by the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) and is FREE.  This production has audience members enthralled as they engage you to think about several key social issues we must give more thought to including “designer babies” and “savior siblings.”

Playing God tells the story of a fictional small town whose inhabitants have enjoyed the benefits of gene technology for decades. As the paths of the young characters—whose lives, loves and futures have been shaped by genetic intervention—collide, the secrets, sacrifices and ethical compromises of the community are exposed. Through the story, music and characters, Playing God challenges the audience to study their own ethical convictions, raising open-ended questions about parental choices, perfection, identity and what it means to be human in a world when our fundamental genes are open to manipulation. Playing God has been critically praised and likened to such classic rock theatre pieces as Tommy, The Wall and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Following the performance, there will be an ethics panel discussion moderated by Joseph J. Fins, MD, The E. William Davis, Jr. MD, Professor of Medical Ethics and Chief of the Division of Medical Ethics, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Director of the Research Ethics Consultation Service, Weill Cornell CTSC.

RSVP to this free event at http://ctsc.med.cornell.edu/PlayingGodRocks.

Go see it. And please, let us know how it made you feel and think.

Thank you!

Older Women Count: Special UN Panel Focuses on Violence Against Older Women

csw59The year 2015 marks a significant milestone – the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This was the focus of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59). The annual two-week gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York wraps up today.

Despite some progress over the last two decades, the areas of concern identified in the Beijing Declaration are still relevant and urgent today. Violence against women, and in particular, violence against older women, remains an issue that stymies even the most ardent supporters of women’s rights. At Older Women Count, Bringing Visibility to Violence against Older Women 20 years after Beijing, a standing-room only audience learned more about the need to include older women in discussions on gender-based violence and how countries are addressing the challenges.

Approximately 850 million people, or about one in 10, were over the age of 60 in 2012, according to Susan Markham, Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, USAID. By 2030, that number will grow to 1.375 billion people age 60-plus; about 16 percent of the world’s population. Older women make up the majority of those over 60, and most live in developing countries.

“Women often outlive men in old age but starting from birth they often have less status, less education, less choice in childbearing, less access to formal employment and are less likely to inherit property,” Bunting said. Yet,“they are more likely to be widowed and to be harmed by traditional practices. Older women are also more likely to experience poverty, as well as social exclusion and many forms of violence.” Age, gender, caste and class are just a few of the many factors working against older women.

Correcting the gender imbalance includes helping women gain better access to education, healthcare, and giving them more of a voice within their communities, Markham said. “We must take older women into account as we work to end poverty and build strong, emergent democracies. It can’t happen without them.”

Kate Bunting, CEO of HelpAge International, a non-profit focusing on the rights of older adults worldwide, and sponsor of the panel said, “despite increasing evidence on how discrimination affects women in older age and the challenges they face, older women are almost entirely absent from the picture.”

credit: Staffan Scherz

credit: Staffan Scherz

She said most measurements of gender-violence — including domestic, sexual and emotional violence — only include women aged 15 to 49. Gaps in research and policy on violence in later life are representative of a host of broader issues surrounding lack of inclusion of age into gender concerns, according to HelpAge. Often, older women and protections for their rights fall through the cracks.

Her Excellency Maria Cristina Perceval, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the UN and forceful advocate for human rights, noted that over a billion women worldwide have been victims of violence in the past 20 years. “This is the real dimension of inequality.”

She reminded the audience that 33 years have elapsed since the UN convention went into force against all forms of discrimination against women, 20 years since the adoption of the Beijing Platform, and 13 years since the adoption of the Madrid international Action Plan on Aging. “These instruments contain concrete commitments to eradicate violence against women; in some cases specifying older women as one of the most vulnerable groups and to protect them from abuse, neglect and violence.”

Governments have an obligation to protect the rights of women, including older women, from any form of abuse and to investigate and prosecute those who commit these acts, including those which result from traditional practices and beliefs,” she added.


Violence against older adults primarily affects women, not just because women outlive men, but also because there is more violence directed against women, according to Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging, US Department of Health and Human Services.

She recounted the story of one woman who fled an abusive husband, only to be swindled out of her life savings and isolated from family and community by the very caregivers she had hired to help her. “She talked about the loss of pride and trust in others, the impact of emotional abuse. And it was devastating.”

This woman, said Greenlee, was a U.S. veteran, who asked, “don’t I deserve better?”

Greenlee uses this story as a way to grapple with the significance of the work, in terms of both numbers and impact. “I believe that the abuse of older people – women and men – is simply an outrage against humanity,” she commented. “It is so disrespectful to all of us, as humans, to face this in old age.”

It’s easy to just see older women as a category, but they’re not, she added. “Older women are us.” It’s the women you see in the mirror, whether she’s with you today or arrives in 20 years. It’s us. It’s a phase of life that presents opportunity as well as vulnerability. In this regard, I consider it an outrage that it happens.”

Greenlee reiterated the need for older women to be part of the conversation about gender violence.


There’s a need for more data, and more innovative approaches to create resilience among survivors, she said. That requires the global community to talk about this seriously and come together to find common solutions. Those on the panel, and those in attendance are committed to making that happen before another 20 years passes.

The entire panel discussion is available on UN-TV (runs 1 hour, 15 minutes)

 

The Upside of ADHD

Lara Cheslow photoThis guest post is written by Lara Cheslow, a cell biology and neuroscience university graduate. Lara has researched in a neuroscience lab and currently teaches math and science. She aspires to become a science writer to keep learning and reporting on exciting new research developments.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric illness in US school children. According to the most recent CDC report, 11% of kids between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives. Research suggests that ADHD and ADDers may have lower-than-average levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps us zero-in on important things around us. ADHD is usually treated using stimulants, like amphetamines, that are classified as Schedule II drugs alongside methamphetamines and morphine. These medications, like Adderall, Concerta, and Focalin, spike their users’ dopamine levels, which allows them to tune out buzzing peripheral details that otherwise vie for attention.

ADHD is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. According to Yale associate professor of public health, Dr. Jason Fletcher, adults with persisting childhood ADHD are “much less likely to be employed at age thirty, and those who [have] jobs [earn] over thirty percent less each year than individuals who [are] not diagnosed with ADHD.”

Outside structured settings, however, the apparent curse can actually be a blessing. Thomas Edison is the historical poster boy for retrospectively-diagnosed ADHD. An inquisitive but unfocused student, he was branded “addled” and dull by his grade school teacher. Edison lasted three months in grade school before his mother insisted on homeschooling him. Free to pursue his insatiably varied interests at home, Edison read voraciously while honing his mechanical and chemical skills.

David Neeleman, the founder and head of JetBlue Airways, is a proud ADDer. Though he barely scraped by in college, the CEO now uses his disorder as an asset. “If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADD, I would take ADD,” says Neeleman. “My ADD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things.”

So if the three pillars of ADHD (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity) equal creativity, energy, and curiosity in less rigid settings, why do we characterize these traits as a disorder? A new neurological study conducted by Washington University’s Dr. Dan T.A. Eisenberg suggests a biological justification for the retention of these traits in our collective gene pool, despite their clash with structured lifestyles. Dr. Eisenberg examined genetic differences among nomadic and settled factions of Ariaal tribesmen in northern Kenya. Specifically, the research correlated nourishment and the presence of the DRD4/7R allele, which is linked to ADHD and codes for a less sensitive dopamine receptor. Among roaming nomads with a dynamic lifestyle, those with the less responsive receptor were better nourished. Settled and organized farmers, on the other hand, were better nourished if they lacked the insensitive receptor gene.

For individuals who flit smoothly between changing landscapes, ADHD can be an evolutionary advantage. Like the agrarian Ariaal lifestyle, our lives are generally structured, so it’s no surprise that the disorder is at odds with many of our activities. In school especially, ADHD symptoms can be disruptive and derailing to teachers organizing a regimented curriculum for their classes. But when a round peg doesn’t fit a square hole, which one needs to change?

written by Lara Cheslow

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