Articles Posted in Ethics

usc-300x279Yet another big university is learning a costly lesson about the perils of ignoring rogue doctors and their harming of vulnerable young people: The University of Southern California has offered to pay $215 million to settle federal lawsuits by hundreds of coeds who say they were sexually harassed and abused by the head gynecologist at the Los Angeles school’s health service.

Women who ever saw Dr. George Tyndall at a campus clinic may receive $2,500 each, while those with claims they were sexually abused by him could be paid up to $250,000 each.

USC said its proposed, tentative settlement has not been reviewed and approved by a federal judge who has been assigned a class-action suit involving hundreds of women.

mitchAt a time when Americans experience high anxiety and financial insecurity due to medical costs — with more than 20 percent of those with health insurance experiencing trouble paying for necessities, more than a quarter of them saying they had bills in collection, and 13 percent forced to borrowed money as a result of illness — politicians and special interests are closing the midterm campaigns as if they can prank voters. Just how gullible do they think the electorate can be?

Republican congressional candidates, after howling about the Affordable Care Act and campaigning unsuccessfully to repeal it in dozens of votes for years, including in the first of the Trump Administration, now are claiming to constituents that they support key parts of Obamacare.

Even as GOP state attorneys general argue in a pending federal court case to gut ACA protections on preexisting conditions, minimum benefits, and lifetime limits, Republican candidates are telling voters, counter factually, how much they embrace and support those Obamacare components. They’re trotting out sad tales about their own relatives’ illnesses to claim to support a position that they opposed in legislative votes and actions just weeks ago.

Nobelmedal-300x295The 2018 Nobel Prizes represent a pinnacle of global  recognition for path-breaking research, but the awards also surface some less than noble aspects of modern science and medicine.

This year’s prizes cast a spotlight on breakthrough findings on  how to take off the immune system’s natural brakes to allow it to attack cancer, and on speeding evolutionary processes so enzymes and bacteria-fighting viruses can be harnessed to create compounds helpful to mankind. Advances in these areas promise to improve and lengthen  lives around the planet.

And it was terrific at a time of so much gender-based discrimination and abuses of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine, to see prestigious prizes, finally, awarded to two women in chemistry (the fifth such Laureate) and physics (the third).

aspirinDoctors subject older patients to risky, costly, invasive, and painful tests and treatments, perhaps with good intention but also because they fail to see that the seniors in their care are individuals with specific situations with real needs that must be considered.

If  physicians too readily accept conventional wisdom in their field, for example, they may push patients 65 and older to take low-aspirin, with the popular but mistaken belief that this practice will help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. This doesn’t work, and, it increases the risk in seniors of “significant bleeding in the digestive tract, brain or other sites that required transfusions or admission to the hospital,” the New York Times reported.

The newspaper cited a trio of studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and based on “more than 19,000 people, including whites 70 and older, and blacks and Hispanics 65 and older. They took low-dose aspirin — 100 milligrams — or a placebo every day for a median of 4.7 years.”

abcshow-300x188Big hospitals can’t exploit patients and violate their privacy by throwing open their facilities to Hollywood for television shows that plump institutions’ reputations. And academic medical centers need to think twice before letting their leaders strike cozy deals to enrich a choice few insiders by hawking important diagnostic information collected with best intentions by medical staff from patients for decades.

The roster of hospitals dealing with black-eyes from recent negative news stories about their activities includes well-regarded institutions in Boston and New York —  Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Federal regulators busted the Boston hospitals with fines settled for just under $1 million for “inviting film crews on premises to film an ABC television network documentary series, without first obtaining authorization from patients,” reported the U.S. Health and Human Services’ department’s Office of Civil Rights.

brca-cancer-risk-261x300Even as a pair of prominent researchers saw their reputations crumble over controversies connected to their work, a University of Washington team showed anew the importance of rigorous, transparent, independent, and widely shared medical science  to patients, in this case those with cancer.

Let’s start with the seemingly positive take that’s accompanying publication in the journal Nature of research regarding an open database with prospectively valuable information on BRCA1 variants, what some have dubbed the “cancer risk” gene.

Everybody carries both BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, named because BR stands for breast and CA for cancer. All of us have two copies of each gene, one passed down from our mother, the other from our father. The genes make proteins that help repair errors in our DNA that pop up from time to time when our cells divide and duplicate their genetic code.  Mutations in either BRCA gene can disable the repair process and make both women and men carriers of the defect susceptible to certain kinds of cancer.

cduntsch-300x300It carries the plot line of a compelling crime story: A knife-wielding assailant works his way into exclusive institutions across a metropolis. There, time after time, he rips into  victims, inflicting great pain and suffering. He acts under the noses of people who should know better. He gets stopped only when someone in law enforcement steps beyond norms to bring him to justice. There’s even a systemic flaw that makes the drug abusing criminal’s acts more awful.

It’s painful and tragic, however, that the saga of Christopher Duntsch, aka “Dr. Death,” is all too gory, true, and potentially avoidable. It has become even more public via modern technology, an increasingly popular and free podcast by Laura Beil on the Wondery site.

Duntsch, now serving a life sentence in prison, moved from one hospital to another in Dallas, where the cancer-researcher and neurosurgeon morphed himself into a spinal surgeon. He was awful. Colleagues reported him to hospitals and medical licensing officials. They stepped in front of him in operating suites and took instruments out of his hands during surgeries. Duntsch, D magazine says, abused drugs, partied, and talked about having wild sex often before long, complex operations. There have been reports that he may intentionally have tried to maim patients. His surgeries were tied to deaths.

theater-228x300What’s an internist to do when an 81-year-old patient, already in failing health with advanced emphysema, seeks a second opinion because he’s been told his prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels are unacceptably high? This senior also has been advised to schedule a prostate biopsy urgently to determine if he has cancer. Can this discussion with both a scared patient — and his bright, concerned personal doctor — be any tougher?

For Andrew Lazris, who is also a geriatric specialist practicing in Maryland, this was a hard, complicated case because it involved his dying dad.

It also exemplified for him the work that he has undertaken with Eric Rifkin, an environmental scientist and adjunct researcher at Johns Hopkins University, in ensuring that patients retain their fundamental and critical right to have a say in their care. And, in doing so, they have developed what they argue is a clear, comprehensible way to help patients grasp and deal with the inevitable uncertainties, risks, and complexities of the array of medical treatments they can get overwhelmed with by doctors, hospitals, Big Pharma, medical device makers, and others in health care.

Nursing homes, by scrimping on their staffing to maximize their profits, put their residents at grave risk for infections that too often have grisly and deadly results. Low-rated facilities run by Uncle Sam to care for elderly veterans also may be concerning. And those oft-pricey assisted living facilities may have their own response to dealing with difficult to care for elders — putting them out on the street.

Kaiser Health News Service, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the Boston Globe all deserve credit for their digging into problems at facilities caring for the old, focusing on issues that should be at the fore for regulators, policy-makers, and politicians as the nation grays.

cdcvape-300x200
Big Tobacco and its allies long have exploited evolving media to hawk harmful products, promoting them as desirable and sexy in print, movies, radio, television, and online. So, it’s not exactly a surprise that these merchants of death have become masters of marketing on social media, targeting young consumers worldwide.

Their latest campaigns may let cigarette- and e-cigarette-makers skirt regulations, some of them tough and aimed at protecting naïve, vulnerable kids from lifetime addictions.

The tobacco hype may be working all too well, with researchers at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere finding that 10.8 million adults in the United States are “vaping,” with 54.6 percent of e-cigarette users also smoking cigarettes. “About 15 percent of vapers had never smoked cigarettes, and 30.4 percent had quit smoking them,” the newspaper reported.

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