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The weirdest medical experiments in history

A new book, , by Alex Boese, lists some of the strangest medical experiments ever performed.

Here's the publisher's description:

When Tusko the Elephant woke in his pen at the Lincoln Park Zoo on the morning of August 3, 1962, little did he know that he was about to become the test subject in an experiment to determine what happens to an elephant given a massive dose of LSD. In Elephants on Acid, Alex Boese reveals to readers the results of not only this scientific trial but of scores of other outrageous, amusing, and provocative experiments found in the files of modern science.

Why can’t people tickle themselves? Would the average dog summon help in an emergency? Will babies instinctually pick a well-balanced diet? Is it possible to restore life to the dead? Read Elephants on Acid and find out!
of some of the weirdest and most shocking:
  • The Initiation of Heterosexual Behavior in a Homosexual Male
  • Heartbeat At Death
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The Dawson College shooting, one year later

Montreal hospital trauma staff of September 13, 2006, when Kimveer Gill shot 20 Dawson College CEGEP students, one fatally, before being shot by police and then killing himself.

Le docteur Tarek Razek, chef du département de traumatologie, parle de «chaos organisé» pour décrire la situation dans la salle d'urgence ce jour-là. «Au début, ce n'était pas clair. Combien y aurait-il de victimes? Tout ce qu'on savait, c'est qu'on faisait face à des blessures multiples par balles», dit-il.

Sa formation en traumatologie à Philadelphie l'a habitué à ce type de traumatisme. Parmi les 11 victimes reçues à l'Hôpital général, trois l'inquiétaient particulièrement, dont Leslie Maforsky qui a reçu deux balles à la tête. [...]

Encore aujourd'hui, il est surpris de voir qu'ils s'en sont tous sortis aussi bien. «Le fait que ce soit des jeunes les a sûrement aidés à récupérer. Pour certains, c'est incroyable de voir leur récupération face à des blessures aussi graves», dit-il.
Another physician, Bernard Bernardin, insisting humbly he didn't deserve recognition, said the successful response to the tragedy .


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Belinda Stronach seeks cancer care in US

When Liberal MP Belinda Stronach (right) needed a mastectomy and breast reconstruction following her breast cancer diagnosis earlier this year, she headed to California. Her choice of US private care over Canadian public care was :

It is unusual for a federal politician to travel outside Canada for private medical treatment, especially given the hallowed status of the Canadian, publicly financed healthcare system in the realm of political debate.
But her spokesperson insisted her decision "had nothing to do with her confidence - or lack of it - in Canada's cancer-treatment facilities or public health care." He continued:
"In fact, Belinda thinks very highly of the Canadian health-care system, and uses it when needed for herself and her children, as do all Canadians. As well, her family has clearly demonstrated that support. [...]

"This was about a specific health-care procedure, unrelated to any views about the quality of Canadian health care, a decision based on medical advice and a referral from her Toronto physicians, and just one part of several areas of treatment. Belinda has nothing but praise for the community of health-care professionals in Toronto who supported and treated her throughout the last six months."
The Star story is , with American readers thrilled to hear of Canada's healthcare struggles.

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Sex & drugs scandal rocks Adopt-A-Doc program

A doctor brought to London, ON via the city's $20,000 Adopt-A-Doc subsidy program with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario that will see him avoid a sexual abuse and narcotics inquiry in exchange for giving up his medical licence and promising to never practise again in any jurisdiction.

Dr Robert Axford-Gatley practised in London until 2004, when he left for Toronto at his wife's behest. There, he worked in cosmetic medicine. (In , he offers Botox and collagen lip treatments: "Want lips like Angelina Jolie's?") But, reports the London Free Press, his marriage fell apart and he struggled financially. He in December 2005 after receiving a $20,000 grant to facilitate the move.

Now, after allegations of sexual abuse of patients and improper prescribing, including of narcotics, Dr Axford-Gatley has managed to strike a deal to avoid a public airing of the charges. Why would the College agree to make such a deal?

In the case of Axford-Gatley, the college obtained more from the agreement than it would have been able to impose if it had investigated and prosecuted his case, [College spokesperson Kathryn] Clarke said.

"We could effectively take someone out of practice in Ontario but we have no authority to take someone out of practice elsewhere. He has agreed not to practise elsewhere," she said.
Despite Ms Clarke's reasoning, it remains to be seen how the people of London feel about an agreement that shoves allegations of sexual abuse under the rug.

Meanwhile, London mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best is trying to recoup part of the city's investment in the Adopt-A-Doc payments:
[DeCicco-Best] said the city sent Axford-Gatley a letter in August requesting he pay back a portion of the Adopt-A-Doc grant. There has been no response, she said.

"If he doesn't respond shortly we will have to look at what our next steps are," the mayor said.
The truth about Dr Axford-Gatley's reason for resigning, which he actually did in July, hadn't come out until now. The London Free Press had he "got burned out."

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Canada's new research policy a "victory for open access"

Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, gives two thumbs up to the new CIHR open access policy in a published in the Toronto Star and The Tyee.

The new policy - the first of its kind for Ottawa's three major research granting institutions that dole out hundreds of millions of dollars each year - will revolutionize access to health research by mandating that thousands of articles published each year be made freely available online to a global audience.

This marks an important step in the "open access" movement in Canada, which had been falling behind peer institutions in the United States, Europe, and Australia. It also places heightened pressure on the publishing industry to adapt their policies to permit greater access to publicly-funded research.
Despite his paean to the open access policy, Mr Geist, careful reader that he is, has nevertheless discovered a loophole that could allow staid publishers to undermine the new effort:
The policy is not iron-clad since publication in an online repository is conditional on the appropriate permission from the publisher. Accordingly, a researcher does not violate the grant requirements by not posting their work if a publisher refuses to grant them permission to do so. This leaves publishers with a measure of control...
You can read , if you're so inclined, on the CIHR website. Or just stick to , if you prefer.

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Clinical practice guidelines? Who needs 'em?

There's no shortage of clinical practice guidelines available to Canadian physicians, but it seems nobody's paying them any mind. A new Canadian Medical Association handbook reports that many clinical practice guidelines haven't had the desired effect on actual clinical practice.

The CMA Handbook on Clinical Practice Guidelines therefore spends as much as a third of the space in its new edition focusing on uptake strategies, commonly called "knowledge translation" methods.

The message, in short: read the guidelines.

The book is available free to CMA members online or in print form.

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US Guantanamo MDs 'complicit in torture'

A letter signed by 260 doctors, scientists and professors, , draws a parallel between the work of American physicians in the Guantanamo prison and the actions of South African physicians during apartheid who forged records to cover up the murder of activist Steve Biko.

The resolution of the Biko case was instrumental in the rehabilitation of the South African Medical and Dental Council and the Medical Association of South Africa, which had been subject to boycotts during the apartheid years. The failure of the US regulatory authorities to act is damaging the reputation of US military medicine. No health-care worker in the War on Terror has been charged or convicted of any significant offence despite numerous instances documented including fraudulent record keeping on detainees who have died as a result of failed interrogations. We suspect that the doctors in Guantanamo and elsewhere have made the same mistake as [South African physician Benjamin Tucker, one of the two doctors who forged Biko's records] who, in 1991, in expressing remorse and seeking reinstatement, said “I had gradually lost the fearless independence…and become too closely identified with the organs of the State, especially the Police force…I have come to realise that a medical practitioner's first responsibility is the wellbeing of his patient, and that a medical practitioner cannot subordinate his patient's interest to extraneous considerations.”

The attitude of the US medical establishment appears to be one of “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.
Of the (PDF), just one is from Canada: , PhD (right), who is actually not Canadian, but German. Dr Schuklenk is a professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University and was appointed in June to hold the Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics. He's also the co-editor-in-chief of Bioethics. You can read his very interesting blog . Although he hasn't yet touched on the Guantanamo letter, he did write last month about a case in he has dubbed .

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Ontario's toxic politicians

The leaders of the major political parties in Ontario are , reports Environmental Defence.

John Tory (pictured right) is the most polluted, with 44 substances present in his body. Howard Hampton (left) came in second with 42, and Dalton McGuinty (centre) had 41. The Canadian Press collected the :

"I'm confident, based on discussions I've had, that people living in northern Ontario - who think the air would be pristine and subject to far fewer smog days - also have toxins in their blood," McGuinty said.

"I don't think you can live in an industrialized environment at the beginning of the 21st century and not have ingested, in one form or another, toxins."

Experts tested the politicians for 70 pollutants and detected 46, including many that are associated with cancer, developmental problems, respiratory illnesses, nervous system damage and hormone disruption.

"This is a very stark lesson to everyone that, no matter who you are, where you live or what you do, toxins are in all of us," Tory said in a statement.

Hampton commended Environmental Defence for its research and said he was "alarmed" by his results.

"It makes me concerned about the health of everyone else in Ontario," he said in a statement.
You can read the at the Environmental Defence website (PDF).


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Are health wikis useful?

if patient-generated health wikis are beneficial (or even safe):

Patients who live with chronic diseases such as epilepsy often know more about them than their doctors, contends Daniel Hoch, a professor at Harvard Medical School who helped to found BrainTalk. Many doctors, he says, “don't get the wisdom of crowds.” But he thinks the combined knowledge of a crowd of his patients would be far greater than his own. A wiki capturing the knowledge of, say, 300 epileptics could be invaluable not only to others with epilepsy, but also to the medical professionals who care for them.
Following that line of reasoning, wouldn't the collective wisdom of 300 epilepsy specialist physicians be even better, then? Some doctors (including Dr Melissa Hershberg, who was ) are already working along those lines with a project called .

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"A connoisseur of medical argot"

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog recently featured Dr Adam Fox, a British pediatric allergist, as .

Dr Fox's crowning achievement -- the one that earned him the WSJ distinction -- is not is research into the increasing prevalence of child nut allergies, but rather his delightfully unusual glossary of doctor slang, published in Ethics and Behaviour in 2003 to accompany a paper he co-authored about the role of slang in a clinical setting.

The WSJ lists some of the highlights of the 200-plus terms Dr Fox identified:

GPO - Good for Parts Only
HAIRY PSALMS - Haven’t Any Idea Regarding Your Patient, Send a Lot More Serum
LOBNH - Lights on But Nobody Home
TEETH - Tried Everything Else, Try Homeopathy
UBI - Unexplained Beer Injury
The BBC enumerated some a few years ago:
NFN - Normal for Norfolk
GROLIES - Guardian Reader Of Low Intelligence in Ethnic Skirt
CTD - Circling the Drain
GLM - Good-Looking Mum
TTFO - An impolite way to say "Told To Go Away" (The doctor told the judge it meant "To take fluids orally," Dr Fox says.)
CNS-QNS - Central Nervous System-Quantity Not Sufficient
Pumpkin positive - "A penlight shone into the patient's mouth would encounter a brain so small that the whole head would light up"
DBI - Dirt Bag Index ("Multiply the number of tattoos with the number of missing teeth to give an estimate of the number of days since the patient last bathed")
Digging for Worms - varicose vein surgery
Departure lounge - geriatric ward
You can find hundreds of other, equally outrageous terms online (see , or , or .)

According to the WSJ, Dr Fox is concerned that these examples of inventive, colourful, descriptive language are disappearng:
Fox laments that slang is “a dying art.” Even as he acknowledges slang can be derogatory, he says it can be useful. Slang is easily remembered, descriptive and saves time. Also, as he wrote in his paper, the humor that make slang catchy “is a potential way of coping with some of the unpleasantness of dealing with human bodily functions, suffering and death on a daily basis.”
But insurance companies are also concerned. Apparently it doesn't reflect well on a doctor's character to have to explain such offensive, insensitive phrases to malpractice jurors.

NRM covered Dr Fox's important research into offensive slang .

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