Supremes to rule on Obamacare

The Supreme Court will hear challenges to Obamacare and will hand down a decision probably in July, which will be before the election:

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide the fate of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, with an election-year ruling due by July on the U.S. healthcare system’s biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years.

A Supreme Court spokeswoman said oral arguments would take place in March. There will be a total of 5-1/2 hours of argument. The court would be expected to rule during its current session, which lasts through June.

The decision had been widely expected since September, when the Obama administration asked the country’s highest court to uphold the centerpiece insurance provision and 26 of the 50 states separately asked that the entire law be struck down.

At the heart of the legal battle is whether the U.S. Congress overstepped its powers by requiring all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, a provision known as the individual mandate.

Legal experts and policy analysts said the healthcare vote may be close on the nine-member court, with five conservatives and four liberals. It could come down to moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often casts the decisive vote.

The law, aiming to provide medical coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, has wide ramifications for company costs and for the health sector, affecting health insurers, drugmakers, device companies and hospitals.

A decision by July would take the healthcare issue to the heart of a presidential election campaign that ends with a vote on Nov. 6 next year. Polls show Americans deeply divided over the overhaul, Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

via UPDATE 4-US top court to take on Obama healthcare law | Reuters.

Any predictions on what the ruling will be?  And, either way, what impact will a decision have on the presidential election?

Consciousness in “a vegetative state”

Don’t call people in a coma “vegetables.”  That’s a dehumanizing figure of speech.  And, as researchers have recently discovered, it isn’t necessarily an accurate description:

All the patients had the same terrible diagnosis: brain damage that marooned them in a “vegetative state” — alive but without any sense of awareness of themselves or the world around them.

But then an international team of scientists tried an ambitious experiment: By measuring electrical activity in the patients’ brains with a relatively simple technique, the researchers attempted to discern whether, in fact, they were conscious and able to communicate.

In most of the cases, there was nothing — no signs that any sentience lingered. But then one man, and another, and, surprisingly, a third repeatedly generated brain activity identical to that of healthy volunteers when they were asked to imagine two simple things: clenching a fist and wiggling their toes.

The findings, reported online Wednesday by the journal the Lancet, provide startling — and in some ways disturbing — new evidence confirming previous indications that a significant proportion of patients diagnosed as being vegetative may in fact be aware.

But, most important, the widely available, portable technology used in the research offers what could be the first practical way for doctors to identify and finally communicate with perhaps thousands of patients who may be languishing unnecessarily in isolation. Doctors could, for example, find out whether patients are in pain.

“You spend a week with one of these patients and at no point does it seem at all they know what you are saying when you are talking to them. Then you do this experiment and find it’s the exact opposite — they do know what’s going on,” said Damian Cruse, a postdoctoral neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada who helped conduct the research. “That’s quite a profound feeling.”

The results and similar findings could also provide crucial insights into human consciousness — one of the most perplexing scientific puzzles — and lead to ways to better provide diagnoses and possibly rehabilitate brain-injury patients, the researchers said.

“Can you imagine spending years without being able to interact with anyone around you?” Cruse said. “We can ask them what it’s like to be in this condition. Do they know where they are? Do they know who is around them? What do they need?’ This will lead to very profound implications.”

Other experts, while praising the research, cautioned that much more work is needed to confirm the findings and refine the technology.

via New technique spots patients misdiagnosed as being in ‘vegetative state’ – The Washington Post.

In praise of the naked mole rat

Scientists have sequenced the genome of a strange little creature, the naked mole rat.  Why?  Because it never gets cancer, lives an unbelievably long life without mental decline, and has many other amazing powers that may hold clues for human health.

Mole rats are hairless, buck-toothed rodents four inches long that live in underground colonies in arid sections of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. Their social structure is the mammalian equivalent of an ant colony. There’s a queen who takes two or three male consorts and is the only female to reproduce. She lords over the rest of the realm — which can be as large as 200 animals — so that the other females cease ovulating and the males give up.

Mole rats can survive in environments low in oxygen (as little as 8 percent as opposed to 21 percent in the atmosphere) and laden with ammonia and carbon dioxide. Unlike other mammals (but like reptiles), they have a hard time regulating their body temperature. They have to move toward the warmer upper reaches of the burrow or huddle with their brethren when they get cold.

But their most unusual features are extreme longevity and apparently complete resistance to developing cancer.

Naked mole rats can live more than 25 years; mice live about four. Buffenstein said she has never found a malignant tumor in a mole rat in her 30-year-old colony, which has 2,000 animals. In a recent experiment, a group of mole rats had patches of skin painted with a chemical carcinogen at a dose 1,000 times stronger than what causes skin cancer in mice. None developed tumors.

A study published in 2009 found that naked mole rats had a molecular anticancer mechanism not present in mice or people. But a first look at the species’ full complement of 22,561 genes shows that’s just the beginning.

There are changes in genes involved in maintaining telomeres, the “tails” of chromosomes that determine how long a cell lives. There are changes in genes involved in marking damaged proteins for destruction. There’s an increase in “chaperone” genes that keep proteins folded into their right shapes. There are genes that appear to let the animals maintain stem cells in their tissues longer than other rodents.

The study looked at 54 human brain genes that become less or more active as a person ages. In the mole rat, 30 of those genes remain stable throughout life, and two others change their activity in a direction opposite to what occurs in human brains.

Mole rats have 96 gene families unique to the species. Interestingly, they and humans also share 178 gene families that neither mice nor other rats have.

via Naked mole rat genome may point way to long, healthy life – The Washington Post.

 

 

Obamacare headed for the Supreme Court

It looks like the Supremes will rule on whether or not Obamacare is constitutional:

The Obama administration chose not to ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-hear a pivotal health reform case Monday, signaling that it’s going to ask the Supreme Court to decide whether President Barack Obama’s health reform law is constitutional.

The move puts the Supreme Court in the difficult position of having to decide whether to take the highly politically charged case in the middle of the presidential election.

The Justice Department is expected to ask the court to overturn an August decision by a panel of three judges in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the law’s requirement to buy insurance is unconstitutional. The suit was brought by 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business, and several individuals. . . .

The issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate has been widely expected to be decided by the Supreme Court. The key question has been the timing. The Justice Department’s apparent decision to ask the Supreme Court to review the case greatly increases the chances the issue will be heard in the 2011-12 term, which begins Monday.

The Supreme Court now has several strong reasons to accept the case. The court rarely declines requests from the government to take a case, especially in situations in which a circuit court has struck down a piece of a high-profile law.

There is also a split between the appeals courts. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the mandate, the 11th Circuit has ruled it unconstitutional, and the 4th Circuit has ruled that a tax law prevents it from issuing a decision on the mandate until at least 2014.

“The odds are pretty significant the court will take the case now,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which has filed briefs in support of the law.

via Health reform lawsuit appears headed for Supreme Court – Jennifer Haberkorn – POLITICO.com.

Assuming the Supremes take the case, how do you think they will rule?

Divorce on grounds of Alzheimer’s

So what all is disturbing about this?

Pat Robertson advised a viewer of yesterday’s 700 Club to avoid putting a “guilt trip” on those who want to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s. During the show’s advice segment, a viewer asked Robertson how she should address a friend who was dating another woman “because his wife as he knows her is gone.” Robertson said he would not fault anyone for doing this. He then went further by saying it would be understandable to divorce a spouse with the disease.

“That is a terribly hard thing,” Robertson said. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen asked Pat, “But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it’s For better or for worse. For richer or poorer?”

Robertson said that the viewer’s friend could obey this vow of “death till you part” because the disease was a “kind of death.” Robertson said he would understand if someone started another relationship out of a need for companionship.

Robertson gave the example of a friend who faithfully visited his wife every day even though she could not remember his visits to illustrate the difficulty of caring for someone with the disease.

“It’s really hurtful because they say crazy things,” Robertson said. “Nevertheless, it is a terribly difficult thing for somebody. I can’t fault him for wanting some kind of companionship. And if he says in a sense she is gone, he’s right. It’s like a walking death. Get some ethicist besides me to give you an answer because I recognize the dilemma and the last thing I’d do is condemn you for taking that kind of action.”

via Pat Robertson Says Divorce Okay if Spouse has Alzheimer’s | Liveblog | Christianity Today.

Note the Gnosticism.  I love Matthew Lee Anderson’s response:

The tragedy of Alzheimer’s is very real, but the fragmentation of the self that the inability to remember precipitates does not entail, as Robertson put it, that a “person is gone” or that Alzheimer’s is a “walking death.” While the debate over what constitutes a “person” is (and will be!) ongoing, as people who believe in an incarnate God, we should be wary of separating the person from the body in the way Robertson does. We are something more than minds that are floating free in the ethereal and insubstantial regions of space.

The point has significant ramifications for our marriages, for the union we enjoy is of two persons and for their mutual well-being. “With my body I thee worship,” reads the old version of the wedding service in the Book of Common Prayer (a prayer book that guides the liturgy of Anglican worshippers), a line that is as lovely as any in the English language. My wife didn’t let us say it in our wedding service for fear that it would confuse people, and I understand why. But it highlights the totality of the sacrifice that marriage requires, and points toward the body as the sign and symbol of my love.

Yet the sacrifice of my body is consummated in my affection and care for my wife’s. The love we have in marriage may not be exhausted by our concern for our spouse’s body, but it certainly includes their bodies—and not just their brains, either. The body is “the place of our personal presence in the world,” as Gilbert Meilander puts it, and the delight we have for the other’s presence is necessarily a delight of its manifestation in the body. The erosion of memory that Alzheimer’s causes makes this sense of presence less stable, but to suggest it can accomplish the final dissolution of the person is to ascribe to it a power that not even death has. For there is, within the Kingdom, a love that is even stronger than death.

HT:  Joe Carter

Perry’s vaccination problem

Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry got hit hard in the recent debate over his executive order to vaccinate young girls against a sexually-transmitted disease.  My friend Rich Shipe was telling me even before Perry threw his hat in the ring that a lot of social conservatives oppose him for that reason.  Here is the story:

Four years ago, Gov. Rick Perry put aside his social conservative bona fides and signed an order requiring Texas girls to be vaccinated against HPV.

The human papillomavirus is a sexually spread virus that can cause cervical cancer, and he says his aim was protecting against that cancer. But it didn’t take long for angry conservatives in the Legislature to override a measure they thought tacitly approved premarital sex, and for critics to accuse Perry of cronyism.

Now Perry’s taking heat on the issue anew as he runs for the presidential nomination of a GOP heavily influenced by conservatives who are sour on the government dictating health care requirements. Illustrating the delicate politics at play, he’s both defending himself and calling his action a mistake.

“If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently,” Perry said Tuesday night as he debated his rivals, insisting that he would have worked with the Legislature instead of unilaterally acting. But he did not back down from his stance that girls should be vaccinated against the virus, which is generally spread by sexual contact. He argued that it wasn’t a mandate and noted that he included the right for parents to opt out of the vaccinations.

“This was about trying to stop a cancer,” he said. “I am always going to err on the side of life.”

Not that the explanation satisfied his GOP opponents. . . .

It all began when Merck, which won approval for the first HPV vaccine a year earlier, was spending millions lobbying state legislators to require girls to be vaccinated with the new product, Gardasil. The company also was donating money to a national organization called Women in Government, which in Texas was led by state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, who chaired the House public health committee. She was also the mother-in-law of Perry’s chief of staff at the time, Deirdre Delisi — the same woman who now is one of Perry’s top presidential campaign aides.

Schedule and campaign finance reports show that on one day — Oct. 16, 2006 — Deirdre Delisi held a staff meeting to discuss the vaccine and Merck’s political action committee gave Perry $5,000. The drug maker had previously given $6,000 in donations. Perry’s office called the timing of the donation a coincidence.

A review of campaign finance reports shows that Merck’s political action committee continued to contribute, a total of $17,500 to Perry’s campaign fund between 2008 and 2010 even though Perry’s order was eventually overturned.

By early 2007, Toomey and Dianne White Delisi were working to overcome opposition among lawmakers to a bill to require the vaccination. But conservatives said they feared the requirement would infringe on personal liberties and signal approval of premarital sex. Rather than wait for the Legislature to act, Perry signed an executive order on Feb. 2, 2007, requiring the vaccination — with an opt-out provision. It surprised even his allies who acknowledged that it was out of step with his limited-government stance.

Perry explained his action by pointing to his long-documented passion about fighting cancer. He had signed a host of legislation to that end, including a constitutional amendment in Texas that created a cancer research institute funded with $3 billion from bond sales.

“We have a vaccine that’s going to save young women’s lives,” Perry said in 2007. “This is wise public policy.”

The governor quickly found that Texas parents didn’t like the idea of the government telling preadolescents to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease. Within three weeks, the House public health committee approved a bill negating the order but Perry persisted in defending his initiative. By May 8, when it was clear the Legislature was going to pass the bill stopping his order, Perry said he would stop fighting.

via Perry facing new criticism for Texas vaccine order – CBS News.

What do you think about this?  Is there a legitimate “pro-life” reason to order a vaccine that might prevent deaths from cancer?  What about the appearance of “crony capitalism”?  If you disapprove of what the governor did, do you consider this a deal-breaker in your ability to support Perry?  Does that apply just to the primary, or also, if he becomes the Republican nominee, if he runs against President Obama?

HT:  Rich Shipe


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