Two Infants Contract Herpes After Barbaric Circumcision Ritual

baby

On Monday of this week, it was reported that two infants in New York had been confirmed as having contracted type 1 herpes, after being subjected to an ultra-orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual.  CNN reported on the details:

In the ritual, known as metzitzah b’peh, after removing the foreskin of the penis the person performing the procedure places his mouth briefly over the wound, sucking a small amount of blood out, which is discarded.

To begin with, let me say that this is a barbaric, repulsive ritual that has no place in modern society.  Aside from the disturbing implications of an adult engaging in mouth to genital contact with an infant, this ritual is known to be extremely dangerous, carrying a high risk of disease transmission to the unwilling infants involved.

The health department says the procedure is dangerous because the contact with the mouth could transmit diseases such as herpes.  Most adults are infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1, and while they may have no symptoms, the virus may be present in their saliva, according to the health department.

To make matters even worse, this is not the first time that infants have contracted herpes as a result of being subjected to this ritual.  Many other cases have been documented in the past, some of which even resulted in the deaths of the infants involved.

Since 2000, there have been 13 reports in New York City of infants contracting HSV-1, two of whom died from the virus.

CNN also reports that the New York Department of Health has enacted measures to attempt to alert parents to the risks of the ritual, although it has faced opposition from Jewish groups.

The DOH passed a regulation in September requiring all those who perform the ritual to get parental consent on a form stating that the procedure can lead to health risks. Several Jewish groups and three rabbis filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Manhattan arguing that “the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express — especially when the speaker is operating in an area of heightened First Amendment protection, such as a religious ritual.”

So, not only are these groups supportive of a procedure that is known to carry serious health risks to infants, but they are attempting to stifle the dissemination of information regarding those risks.   This reaction shows an even more atrocious lack of regard for the lives, health, and safety of others than their condoning of the ritual in the first place.

Dr. Thomas A. Farley, commissioner of the city’s health department, claimed the consent requirement was “lawful, appropriate and necessary” in a September press release. “The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice,” he said.

While I applaud Mr. Farley for his support of informed consent, I can’t help but call bullshit on this statement.  If the city truly considered the protection of its children to be its highest obligation, then the health department would outlaw these practices altogether.  Mr. Farley’s next statement serves to prove this:

“There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn.”

The fact that these dangerous practices are allowed to continue, out of tolerance for religious belief, says that the appeasement of religious groups gets a higher priority than the protection of the innocent, unwilling children who fall victim to them.  And, to those who might say that outlawing the ritual would violate the freedom of religious practice, I call bullshit a second time.  While circumcision may take its roots from religion, it is a medical procedure, and should be treated and regulated as such.

The point to all of this is that when we allow religious tolerance to take precedence over protecting the health and safety of those who cannot protect themselves, it is a massive failing of society.   Just as we don’t allow communities to stone women who have premarital sex or children who curse their parents to death, because the bible commands it, neither should we allow a child’s health and life to be put in jeopardy, simply to satisfy the requirements of an ancient religious ritual.

-J.C.

Weekend Posting

Just a heads up, eveyone: posts will most likely be few and short for a few days. There was a death in the family, and I will be spending the next few days on the road, and with family. I will try to get a short post up over the weekend, and things will be back in full swing by Monday or Tuesday.

In the meantime, I will use the Twitter feed to comment on anything interesting that I come across. Make sure to subscribe!

-J.C.

Kansas Set to Pass Anti-Abortion Law that Promotes False Science and Fails to Protect Victims of Rape and Incest

A new law that was passed by the Kansas State Senate this week could open the door to redefining the legality of abortions in the state.1345039585327_1165660  In addition, it will put into place many new guidelines regarding abortion funding and sex education.  Although Democrats have stalled it for a short time by having it sent back to the House for the approval of technical changes, it is expected to clear the House for the final time this week, and Governor Brownback has already stated that he will sign any anti-abortion legislation that is sent his way.

The bill has several key points.  First, it defines life as beginning at conception.  Secondly, it attempts to prevent taxpayers from inadvertently supporting abortion by banning medical clinics that provide abortions from receiving any type of state funding or benefits, prohibiting organizations that offer abortion services from providing sex education in schools, and restricting women from claiming abortion service related costs as deductions on state income taxes.  Finally, it gives specific guidelines regarding what information abortion providers are required to give to patients, prior to performing an abortion.

Let’s take a look at the first point.  The Wichita Eagle reports:

The bill at hand, House Bill 2253, makes several changes in state abortion and tax laws, including defining life as beginning at the moment of fertilization…

Here, we run into the first problem with this bill: the idea that a fertilized egg, or zygote, constitutes a human life.  While it is undeniable that the cells contained within a zygote are alive, the idea that it is a human being is ludicrous.  In no way, other than on the most basic genetic level, does a zygote even resemble a human.  In fact, a human embryo is almost indistinguishable from that of many other species until around the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy.  Put simply, a zygote is not a human being in the same way that an egg is not a chicken, and an acorn is not a tree.

All of this is not to mention the alarming fact that defining a fertilized egg as a human life opens the door to granting it legal personhood, which would completely redefine the legal status of abortion in the state.

Next, there is the fact that the bill directly promotes false scientific assertions about health risks related to having an abortion.

Another fought-over provision establishes a statutory mandate that abortion doctors must provide controversial medical information to women who are seeking an abortion, specifically of a link between abortion and breast cancer.

This supposed link has been heavily debunked and dismissed.  The American Cancer Society’s website cites 3 major studies that found there to be no relationship between abortion and a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.  In addition, they list several expert groups that have issued reports dismissing any alleged correlation between the two.  One of the groups, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Gynecologic Practice, even criticized the earlier studies that claimed to have found such a link:

“Early studies of the relationship between prior induced abortion and breast cancer risk were methodologically flawed. More rigorous recent studies demonstrate no causal relationship between induced abortion and a subsequent increase in breast cancer risk.”

The bill also launches an attack on sex education programs in Kansas:

In addition, the bill:

• Prohibits paid agents or volunteers connected to abortion providers – including Planned Parenthood – from providing any information on human sexuality to students in public schools.

To shed some light on the kinds of programs that this part of the bill will eliminate, let’s look at a statement from Planned Parenthood’s website about their educational programs:

PPHS provides free medically accurate, age appropriate, sexuality education presentations and workshops to our communities.  Our educators look forward to working with your community group, youth group, faith based organization, human services department, school, or individually.

So, this bill will effectively ban groups like Planned Parenthood from providing FREE sex education in public schools.  Here are a few facts to put this into perspective: 1. The Kansas educational system is already strapped for cash.  2. Several studies have shown that comprehensive sex education is effective in reducing teenaged pregnancies.  3. Teenaged pregnancies account for 17% of all abortions in Kansas.  At the very least, these facts would seem to suggest that this measure will do nothing to reduce the number of abortions in Kansas, and it could even be argued that it has the potential to have the opposite effect.

Additionally, HB2253  makes no specific exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest.  Although Democrats in the Kansas Senate attempted to insert an amendment that would protect women in those situations, Republicans staunchly opposed it, and it was not included in the changes that were made.  One Republican claimed that she opposed the exceptions because they could also affect other abortion laws in Kansas, such as the ban on abortions after 22 weeks.  An article from thinkprogress.org, though, explains why this is untrue, and points out that these types of exceptions already have overwhelming support in the U.S.

In fact, such an amendment wouldn’t “undo” state-level abortion restrictions at all. Exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and preserving the life of the woman are still extremely narrow, and don’t change the fact that restrictions on reproductive care are still imposed on the majority of women. Those small exemptions have become somewhat of a national standard. The federal government, 32 states, and the District of Columbia all offer exceptions in the cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest in their bans on public funding for abortion. Americans also overwhelmingly support abortion access for victims of rape and incest.

In short, HB2253 is a vile piece of legislation that not only has the potential to impact the future legal status of abortions in the state of Kansas, but also promotes unscientific ideals, limits teenagers’ access to comprehensive sex education, and fails to provide protection to women who need it the most.  More than any to come before it, this bill makes me ashamed to be a Kansan.

-J.C.

Pat Robertson Blasts Science, Education, and Skepticism, Glorifies Blind Faith in Less Developed Countries

Pat Robertson speaks outWell, Pat Robertson is at it again, this week.  On Monday’s episode of The 700 Club, a viewer posed a question about miracles.   Rightwingwatch.org uploaded a video clip of the episode, and I still haven’t decided which was worse: the question, or Robertson’s response.

Caller: “Why do amazing miracles (people raised from the dead, blind eyes open, lame people walking) happen with great frequency in places like Africa, and not here in the USA?”

Now, my first instinct is to wonder if this guy is for real. I’m not completely convinced that this wasn’t a masterfully executed exercise in trolling, especially considering that Monday was April Fool’s Day.  For now, though, let’s ignore the ridiculousness of the suggestion that Africa, many parts of which are poverty stricken, riddled with conflict and facing an AIDS crisis, is a continent that has been blessed with an abundance of miracles, and take a look at Robertson’s response:

Robertson: “Because those people overseas didn’t go to Ivy League schools.”

If you’re waiting for the punchline, there isn’t one.  Robertson was dead serious.  He continued:

Robertson:“Well, we are so sophisticated, we think we’ve got everything figured out, we know about evolution, we know about Darwin, we know about all these things that says God isn’t real, we know about all this stuff.  In many schools, in the more advanced schools, we have been inundated with skepticism and secularism.”

There you have it.  The age old attack on science and skepticism that religion has been forced to keep up over the ages, as science has consistently shown it to be false.  Because, when the answer to a question isn’t what you want people to believe it is, the only way to keep them from finding out is to convince them that it’s a bad thing to ask the question, in the first place.  Here’s a tip, folks: any time that someone uses the term “skepticism” with a negative connotation, your bullshit-o-meter should be setting off an alarm.

Robertson wasn’t about to stop at vilifying science and critical thinking, though.  He went on to glorify the more widespread blind faith and unquestioning acceptance of those in less developed countries, saying that:

“Overseas, they’re simple, humble. You tell ‘em God loves ‘em and they say, ‘Okay, he loves me.’ You say God will do miracles and they say, ‘Okay, we believe him.’ And that’s what God’s looking for. That’s why they have miracles.”

So, a famous televangelist tells people that science and skepticism are bad, and blind faith is good.  Pretty much par for the course, right?  Well, I suppose, but that’s exactly why it raises my ire so much.  When charlatans like this man are able to dupe millions of viewers with their science denying, ignorance glorifying nonsense, its effect is the retardation of the social and intellectual evolution of our species.  He and people like him should be exposed at every turn as the harmful frauds that they are, until the large scale promotion of ignorance is no longer considered just an everyday occurrence, but an offensive act of harm against humanity.

-J.C.

Here is the video clip of the episode, courtesy of rightwingwatch.org:

New Study Further Debunks Anti-Vaccine Claims

A few weeks ago, as my Composition II Honors classmates and I were discussing ideas for an upcoming research paper, the alleged link between vaccinations and autism was brought up.  Over the next ten minutes or so, as I tried to shed a skeptical light on the issue, I was subjected to a slew of skewed information and anecdotal evidence by the three other members of the class, and even the instructor, who all supported this ridiculous notion that childhood vaccinations and cases of autism have a direct correlation.

The anti-vaccination movement found its beginnings when Andrew Wakefield published a report, claiming there to be a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of neurological disorders, specifically autism.  Despite this study being thoroughly debunked long ago, the idea still persists, with its adherents launching campaign after campaign against childhood vaccinations.  Now, a new study has come out, which sheds even more light on the supposed link between childhood vaccinations and autism.

A large new government study should reassure parents who are afraid that kids are getting autism because they receive too many vaccines too early in life.

The study, by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. It also found that even though kids are getting more vaccines these days, those vaccines contain many fewer of the substances that provoke an immune response.

This study deals a heavy blow to one of the latest claims to come out of the anti-vax movement: that getting large numbers of vaccines in the same day, or in the first years of life, has a causal connection with autism.

To find out if that was happening, DeStefano led a team that compared the vaccine histories of about 250 children who had autism spectrum disorder with those of 750 typical kids. Specifically, the researchers looked at what scientists call antigens. An antigen is a substance in a vaccine that causes the body to produce antibodies, proteins that help fight off infections.

“The amount of antigens from vaccines received on one day of vaccination or in total during the first two years of life is not related to the development of autism spectrum disorder in children,” DeStefano says.

Aside from the most obvious harm to individual children, vaccine denial carries some serious potential consequences.  for example, in the last few years, we have seen a strong resurgence of diseases like measles and pertussis (whooping cough), which could be linked to a loss of herd immunity.  On top of this, Ellen Wright Clayton, a Vanderbilt University Professor, points out that the focus on researching and debunking the link between vaccinations and neural disorders has hindered research on disease prevention.

“The sad part is, by focusing on the question of whether vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, they’re missing the opportunity to look at what the real causes are,” she says.