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Implanted RFID chips could cause cancer

That's the suggestion of a new investigation by .

And not only could the chips be linked to cancer in animals, but the FDA apparently did not consider any of the numerous studies that established that link when officials made the decision to approve the implants in humans on January 10, 2005.

And even further, the AP reports there's a whiff of something fishy in the air:

The FDA is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, which, at the time of VeriChip's approval, was headed by Tommy Thompson. Two weeks after the device's approval took effect on Jan. 10, 2005, Thompson left his Cabinet post, and within five months was a board member of VeriChip Corp. and Applied Digital Solutions. He was compensated in cash and stock options.

Thompson, until recently a candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, says he had no personal relationship with the company as the VeriChip was being evaluated, nor did he play any role in FDA's approval process of the RFID tag.

"I didn't even know VeriChip before I stepped down from the Department of Health and Human Services," he said in a telephone interview.
And, further still, the American Medical Association didn't acknowledge any of the animal-cancer studies in their "June report by the ethics committee [...] which touted the benefits of implantable RFID devices."
Had committee members reviewed the literature on cancer in chipped animals?

No, said Dr. Steven Stack, an AMA board member with knowledge of the committee's review.

Was the AMA aware of the studies?

No, he said.
The AP article goes on to detail the studies that link RFID implantation to cancer, at length.

The end of the AP story is priceless:
In a TV interview while still on the board, Thompson was explaining the benefits — and the ease — of being chipped when an interviewer interrupted:

"I'm sorry, sir. Did you just say you would get one implanted in your arm?"

"Absolutely," Thompson replied. "Without a doubt."

"No concerns at all?"

"No."

But to date, Thompson has yet to be chipped himself.
This news about a potential RFID-cancer link piqued my interest, so I sent an email to Amal Graafstra. I interviewed Amal earlier this year about his two RFID implants (one in each hand) for . (The photos to the right are of his hands.)

Amal pointed me to about the AP's work, that he published on . It's a fascinating examination of the cancer claim:
I really just don’t see the glass or the operation of the implant to be the cause. I feel it’s more than likely that it’s the anti-migration coating on the pet and human implants that are causing the cancerous cells surrounding the implant site. The implants I’ve got and other DIY people that have followed in my footsteps have do not have this coating. I purposely did not get implants with this coating because I wanted to be sure I could remove/replace mine should the need arise. Now I’m just that much more satisfied I chose not to get an “FDA approved human” or pet implant which have this coating.
To read the transcript of my interview with another body modification enthusiast, Quinn Norton, who has reported on body mods for Wired magazine and had a magnet inserted into her finger for a time, see this July Canadian Medicine post.

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Public's "muted reaction" to Stronach story a sign of change: National Post

The Toronto Star's on Belinda Stronach's decision to have breast-cancer care in California rather than in Canada failed to cause much of a stir, the Star has admitted.

The acceptance of so many Canadians of Ms Stronach's choice is a sign of "the coming health revolution" when Canadians will cease to be prevented from leaving the public system if they want to spend their own money on healthcare, :

Last Friday, the left-leaning newspaper sought to goad its readers into righteous fury with a front-page story reporting that Liberal MP Belinda Stronach recently had sought treatment for breast cancer at a U.S. medical clinic. Ms. Stronach, who's become a political punching bag in recent years for a variety of unrelated reasons, clearly was being set up for a cascade of abuse and accusations of hypocrisy.

But that cascade never came. Instead, Star readers told the newspaper's editors to butt out. "Far from outrage, early reaction seems to be heavily on Stronach's side," a Star writer reported in a follow-up article. "Star readers, responding in a Web forum, were largely saying yesterday that it was no one's business where the Magna executive decided to pay for her own treatment outside Canada's medicare system. The Star's 'Speak Out' forum received comments such as: 'Good for Belinda,' and 'There's no issue,' and 'Please, please, please, leave her alone.' At least a couple of readers questioned the Star's judgment in making this front-page news."
You can read the Star's follow-ups on readers' reactions and .

For Canadian Medicine's earlier coverage of this story, see this post.

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Health Wonk Review: September 20, 2007

The , a collection of recent health-policy blog posts, is online now at .

Highlights include a series of entries about Hillary Clinton's health-insurance plan, a of a recent study debunking American myths about killer Canadian wait times, and news on a few interesting biotech companies' lawsuit struggles.

Canadian Medicine makes an appearance, with a nice introduction from author Joe Paduda:

here's a candidate for most-clicked-to from a brand-spanking-new contributor to HWR - "Sex & drugs scandal rocks Adopt-A-Doc program". Yes, you can open this at the office...

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John Tory proposes more private delivery of publicly funded care

The two most salient points from John Tory's (pictured right) proposed health-insurance reform plan are to let Ontarians access private health clinics using their public insurance plan cards, and to let physicians work in both public and private clinics at the same time.

The London Free Press

While "fiercely committed" to the principles of the public health system, he said he believes private health-care delivery can end the suffering of people waiting for service.

Tory said the OHIP card would be needed to access such services and facilities, which wouldn't be able to charge more than OHIP pays.
The Globe and Mail says Tory's plan is from the religious-schools issue that has been hurting him in the polls heading into the October 10 election.

The Globe reports that the Liberals and NDP, of course, oppose Tory's ideas:
Liberal Health Minister George Smitherman said his party rejects the idea that for-profit delivery is the answer for health care.

There is a "tremendous body of evidence" that suggests the private delivery of health care will lead to poorer outcomes and the "cherry picking" of the easier, high-profit procedures by the private providers, he said.

"Hip surgery is not like having your toenail clipped," he said.The NDP also condemned the plan, saying Mr. Tory would "continue the McGuinty tradition of steering public dollars into private profit."
For more on the Ontario election and healthcare, see .

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Speaker didn't spread TB: public health officials

Andrew Speaker, the MDR-TB-positive Atlanta lawyer (pictured right) who flew back and forth across the Atlantic and attempted to sneak back into the US via Montreal, didn't infect any fellow passengers, .

The Public Health Agency of Canada identified and contacted the 29 people who were in that zone of potential infection on the Prague to Montreal flight. All but a few have completed the necessary two tests, an official of the agency confirmed.

"Based on the currently available information, there's no evidence of transmission on the flight," said Dr. Tom Wong, director of community acquired infections with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

"That's actually a welcome piece of news." [...]

While this is welcome news for Speaker's fellow passengers, it doesn't mean the saga is over, [Dr Mario Raviglione, head of the WHO's Stop TB program] said.

He said shortcomings in international guidelines that came to light during the Speaker case are being addressed by a working group. While the main principles - the guidance on testing people in the two rows on either side of an infected traveller, for instance - still hold, changes are needed to address actions countries should take when it is evident an infected person may have put others at risk.

"All the basic things will not change. But we want to expand on a few other points, to make it even clearer, if you like, to people what needs to be done in the case of a situation like that one," Raviglione said.

"It will define better what the responsibility of the public health authorities is and what WHO is, etc."

"Mr. Speaker was just the one that sounded, in a way, the alarm of what is going on," he added. "Sooner or later there will be a case like that that will fly again and so we have to be ready to try to contain the potential of transmissions to others."

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Making the link between pollution and health

Public concern about the health effects of pollution is gradually becoming a major political issue in Canada.

Famous Canadian environmentalist / scientist / reporter David Suzuki (right) delivered a lecture on Tuesday this week at the Canadian Public Health Association conference in Ottawa entitled "Our environment is our health."

On the same day, the David Suzuki Foundation released a report, "," calling for broad reform of Canadian environmental-protection legislation in order to prevent disease. (Read the full report , as a PDF.) Here's an overview of the report:

Unlike nearly every other industrialized country, Canada has no coordinated environmental health strategy. As a result, Canada's current patchwork approach to the most serious environmental hazards threatens the health and well-being of every Canadian [...]

"The good news is that we can prevent the majority of the adverse environmental effects on our health, but we require an all-encompassing effort from federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to catch up and solve these problems," [report author and environmental lawyer David Boyd] says.

Currently, many Canadian health and environment laws and policies are weaker than corresponding laws in other nations. For example:
  • Canada does not have legally binding national standards for air quality and drinking water quality;
  • Canada permits the use of pesticides that other countries have banned for health and environmental reasons;
  • Compared to other nations, Canada allows higher levels of pesticide residues on our food;
  • Canada has completely failed to regulate some toxic substances such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), phthalates, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); and,
  • Canada has weaker regulations for toxic substances such as radon, lead, mercury, arsenic, and asbestos.
And it's not just David Suzuki who's onto this. In New Brunswick, where the is , a to investigate the relationship between proximity to industrial/pesticide pollution and asthma, allergies, neuro-developmental disorders, cancer and endocrine-related disorders. Another community in the province, Grand Lake, is of an insufficient response to unhealthy pollution.

, released around the time of the group's August annual meeting, showed 27% of Canadians say they have an illness that is attributable to environmental degradation.

Photo: Al Harvey, /

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Quebec's "Chaoulli" law is bad for Quebecers: Prémont

Two years after the Supreme Court ruled on the Chaoulli case, and a year after Quebec's Bill 33 was passed in response to it, École nationale d’administration publique Law professor Marie-Claude Prémont (pictured right) still hasn't run out of things to say about the matter. This month, she submitted a (PDF) to the Health Law Journal analyzing the effects of the Chaoulli decision:

The Quebec government’s response to the Chaoulli Supreme Court decision regarding unreasonable wait times and private health insurance has been to introduce guaranteed wait time limits for certain health care services. In this paper I examine two documents: the White Paper (Guaranteeing Access: Meeting the Challenges of Equity, Efficiency and Quality), and Bill 33, passed and assented in December 2006. An analysis of these documents shows that the government is suggesting not one but two separate guarantee mechanisms quite different from one another: a public guarantee on the one hand and a public-private guarantee on the other.

The first one, the public guarantee, is for all practical purposes already in place, even if not in those terms, for tertiary cardiology and radiation oncology services. Results of the use of this mechanism in the past few years have shown dramatic improvement to access to care. I welcome the expansion of the public guarantee for health care services in Quebec.

However, the Quebec proposal also introduces a second type of guarantee, the public-private one, about which I express strong reservations. This guarantee is linked to staunch conservative ideology, as found in Canada and elsewhere, and it is part and parcel of the introduction of private health insurance for medical and hospital services, as well as contracting-out public services to private for-profit enterprises. Its main impact over the medium to long term will be the support of the legalization and expansion of private surgical facilities and, more broadly, the implementation of a parallel system of private medical and hospital care in Quebec. The public interest of Quebecers is poorly served by such an initiative.

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Quebec City man's kidney for sale

If you want to illegally sell your kidney, it's probably best not to :

Saying he is "flat broke" because of the court battle, which killed his reputation as a legitimate and competent provider of offshore financial services, [Quebec City businessman Jean Bédard] is eligible to qualify for legal aid but is unable to find a lawyer willing to take his case.

After being granted a delay by the courts last month to find a solution, he said he came up with the idea of selling one of his two kidneys to raise funds. [...]

"I've heard that a guy was paid $2.5 million for a kidney," said Bédard, a 44-year-old bachelor with no children who says he is in good health. "I don't smoke or drink or do drugs, (so) my kidneys must be in pretty good shape." [...]

But kidney experts think Bédard might have trouble with his money-raising scheme.

According to Marlene Shoucair, director of national communications for the Canadian Kidney Foundation, it is illegal to sell any organ for transplant in Canada.

Whoops.

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How (not) to protect Canadians' private health information

The 29th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, which comes to Montreal from September 25 to 28, will play host to US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, pictured below, who will appear as a guest speaker at the gathering of data-privacy officers. He makes a rather odd choice for a speaker at such a conference, given his own views on information privacy.

The USA Patriot Act, which he co-wrote in 2002, permits the US government to , , and -- all without proving probable cause and obtaining a court-issued warrant first. The US-based Medical Library Association has .

Canadians' medical records may be at risk, too. Where Canadian medical record-keeping is outsourced to American companies -- as it has already been in BC with the US company Maximus (see , , and especially , and read the BC privacy commissioner's analysis ), for instance -- it could be argued that those records will fall under the provisions of the Patriot Act.

In some cases, however, Mr Chertoff has instead been a vigorous defender of information privacy -- such as when he to divulge details about conversations he may or may not have had with the CIA about the legality of various torture methods (which he also refused to discuss) when he testified before the Senate in 2005.

It will be very, very interesting to find out what Mr Chertoff has to contribute to this kind of conference.


*Update, October 2: Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, writes about Michael Chertoff's Orwellian keynote address. The title of Geist's article gives you a hint as to his assessment of Chertoff's views: "The End of Privacy?"

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Will the aging population bankrupt medicare? No, it won't

Japan's aging population is beginning to put a strain on the country's healthcare system, . There, seniors' care now accounts for 40% of all health spending. And the trend is projected to continue: as the world's longest-living people, 40% of Japanese will be 65 or older by 2055.

Japan's elderly health costs crisis appears to be the real thing -- unlike the one allegedly underway in Canada, according to this sobering new Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) study (PDF).

Marc Lee, the author of the report, :

"There's a notion in the public that as the baby-boom generation recedes into retirement years, this is going to push health-care costs over the cliff, but it's not true."
The study concludes that the effect of aging on healthcare costs will be no greater than a 1% increase in spending per year over the next 40 years. That amount is easily manageable, Dr Lee says. The nominal growth of the Canadian economy has been 5.4% per year over the past 20 years, and Dr Lee predicts that the current state of the healthcare system can be maintained with increased spending of about 4.4%.

The CCPA study may sound a bit unbelievable given the excited protests of Canadian governments citing the "unsustainability" of the current system and the need to supplement it with public-private partnerships/user fees/private insurers/increased private delivery of care/all of the above. But the logical conclusion, based on the results of the CCPA study, is to realize that governments have been dishonest in their assessments.

In fact, a 2005 CIHI study found nearly the same result as the new CCPA report. I wrote about that in February in relation to British Columbia's projection of out-of-control health spending in the future, when I asked "" (Hence the Chicken Little illustration above.)

Canadian Medicine covered this issue in July when a UBC economist named Robert Evans published a working paper that similarly debunked BC's desperate claims.

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"Dr Profit" is nothing more than a capitalist running dog: socialists

The world's socialists, not entirely surprisingly, aren't pleased with Dr Brian Day's new role as president of the Canadian Medical Association:

In August of this year, Dr. Brian Day, an unabashed proponent of the privatization of the Canadian health care system, began a one-year term as president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), an organization comprising some 60,000 doctors across Canada. The arrival of Day—who had been nicknamed “Dr. Profit” by supporters of Canada’s universal public health insurance program—has received the fervent support of a Canadian ruling elite eager to intensify the assault on Medicare and to expand the market for private, for-profit health services.

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Physicians, economists and pirates. Oh my!

In a short article on the New York Times Freakonomics blog about , Stephen J Dubner quotes from a book by Stephen Talty called Empire of Blue Water, which details the remuneration and recruitment models common among pirate physicians:

Skilled tradesmen were well compensated: The carpenter who’d be responsible for fixing any breaches of the hull from cannonballs or storm damage was often paid 150 pieces of eight; the surgeon and his “chest of medicaments” got 250. Men of both professions were so sought after that pirates would sometimes attack merchant ships just to steal away their shipwright or doctor, who was then forced into piracy.
The most famous pirate physician is undoubtedly Dr James Ferguson, a Scot in Samuel Bellamy's employ who sailed on the Whydah, which sank in 1717 near Massachusetts. :

As a man of science, Dr. Ferguson would have wanted us to stick to the facts. But they're pretty sparse in his case. We know he was Scottish; we know he tended the sick and wounded in Samuel Bellamy's pirate crew.

At least he tried to. A ship's surgeon had few supplies and none of the antibiotics we count on today. So when something got infected, the answer was often just to cut it off. The surgeon grasped the limb tightly, since the wide-awake patient wasn't likely to sit still. Then he cut as quickly as he could and cauterized the stump with a red-hot ax.

But there may have been more to Dr. Ferguson. Many of Scotland's citizens were unenthusiastic about King George I, who'd been imported from Germany. Some even launched a rebellion in 1715, and the good doctor may have been part of it. If so, turning pirate might have been his way of escaping punishment when the revolt failed.

A Google search for pirate doctors unearths a handful of truly strange items:
  • US journalist Paul Davidson's imaginary job as : "... in pirate psychology school, they teach you to be honest, generous and that if someone crosses you that you must push them into shark-infested waters before they can do it again."
  • A rather crude and not very funny joke that begins ""
  • An Oklahoma City mother recalls her two boys' game of : "the Pirate Doctor says things like, ‘Arrr, ye be having a broken arm there, lassie! I’ll be puttin’ a bandage on that there! Arr!’"
  • A frightening story about a November 2005 incident in which Rossland, BC surgeon Steve McVicar and another BC doctor and his wife were (you can also hear a , in a Real Audio file):

Five pirates boarded the sailboat and held Dr. Steve McVicar and his friends – a Vancouver Island doctor and his wife – at gunpoint while they looted the 13-metre vessel.

McVicar says the trio had been watching a DVD in the cockpit when the pirates attacked, with the sound of the movie covering their approach.

Speaking with Rick Cluff on CBC Radio's The Early Edition, he said the three B.C. sailors were tied up and threatened with guns.

McVicar says they tried not to resist or look their captors in the eyes.

"I knew that any second I could be gone from this life. I think my family would have a hard time with that," he said.

"We were fairly calm, but we knew we were in an extremely dangerous situation, you know, I just think that for those 20 minutes of hell."


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Canadian scientists battle Congo Ebola

Three National Microbiology Laboratory scientists from Winnipeg are :

Three Canadian scientists will be based in Luebo in the affected area and approximately 10 kilometres north of Kampungu, where Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) have established their base, Kelly Keith, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg laboratory, confirmed Sunday.

Keith said the Canadian team will be comprised of Dr. Heinz Feldmann, laboratory technician Allen Grolla and Dr. Gary Kobinger. Feldmann is an expert on viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and the related Marburg virus; Feldmann and Grolla spent weeks in Angola in 2005 helping to contain a large Marburg outbreak there.

The three will bring a small mobile laboratory developed by staff of the National Microbiology Laboratory which can operate with limited resources. They will serve as part of a joint team made up of experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the Public Health Agency of Canada. (The Winnipeg lab is part of the agency.)
(Read the for more information.)

In February 2001, there was . Dr Douglas MacPherson, a tropical medicine specialist, ordered the national contingency plan for viral hemorrhagic fevers. It turned out the woman didn't have Ebola and made a full recovery, but Dr MacPherson told the CMAJ he was impressed by the fast response by Canadian public health officials.

To read up on Ebola, check out .

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