Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, November 24, 2017

Forewarned

"Alcohol is such a big part of our culture in Canada. We're inundated with alcohol marketing that shows us how much fun alcohol is. It's part of most of our celebrations."
"...[But] consumers have a right to know the health risks if they do choose to drink alcohol. If they do choose to drink, they can do so in a safer manner."
Erin Hobin, researcher, Public Health Ontario

"Simply presenting all the negatives all the time, and not the positive, is I'm not sure [sic] terribly helpful."
"You have to have both messages there, because otherwise it comes off as a kind of scare message. You mention the word cancer, and people freak out. And rightfully so."
Jann Westcott, president, Spirits Canada
"Alcohol continues to be a significant factor for violent crime in the Yukon."
"New data from Statistics Canada show that while crime severity in the territory has remained stable from 2015 to 2016, violent crime severity has mounted."
"Dan Cable, a spokesperson for the Yukon Department of Justice, noted in an interview with the Star that 90 per cent of all violent crime lists alcohol as a factor."
"'We have an alcohol problem in the territory,' he said. 'Yukon has one of the highest uses of alcohol, and alcohol is a factor in criminal behaviour'."
"The information comes from Statistics Canada’s annual report on police-reported crime."
"It shows that the Yukon’s crime severity index (CSI) dropped by less than one per cent between 2015 and 2016 – while the violent CSI rose by more than eight per cent."
"The crime rate fell by five percentage points, with 9,118 actual incidents in the territory last year."
"The crime severity index includes all Criminal Code of Canada violations. It tracks changes in crime severity by reflecting the seriousness of individual offences, while the violent CSI focuses on violent violations."
"Other reports show that the Yukon has almost three times the national rate of hospitalizations caused entirely by alcohol. That excludes emergency room visits and accidents resulting from impaired driving."
"As well, the territory had the highest rate of alcohol sales per capita in 2014, and the second-highest percentage of self-reported heavy drinking."
"Last year, there were 366 impaired driving charges in the Yukon and 169 drug violations."
"Yukon RCMP also reported 1,555 violent Criminal Code violations in the territory last year, with assaults accounting for the majority, at 1,019."
Whitehorse Daily Star, Whitehorse, Yukon
In the first experiment of its kind in the world, Yukon introduced warning labels on alcohol bottles this week detailing drinking's cancer risk     Handout

Canadians generally make the assumption that drinking in moderation  is harmless to their health. That assumption rests on the messages that have reached the public through research findings where small amounts of alcohol are seen to be useful in reducing the incidence of heart-health risk. That assurance of moderation and presumed health safety served to convince the public that drinking in moderation is a positive, heart-healthy activity.

Earlier this month though, came the latest medical news from the American Society of Clinical Oncology warning of alcohol consumption dangers, linking alcohol directly with over one in twenty cancers worldwide. Now that's something to think about. And according to researcher Erin Hobin, evidence often cited of health benefits linked to alcohol happens to be "very conflicting", and this appears to be the position of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, along with other like groups.

A survey conducted over the Internet of over two thousand residents of Ontario revealed that most respondents supported the placing of alcohol information labels on liquor bottles. The labels, explaining the size of standard drinks and safe-practise drinking levels appeared to have the support of most people in the general public.

Two diffferent warning labels will be added to alcohol containers in Yukon in the coming months, as part of an ongoing Health Canada study. One label warns of the cancer risk associated with drinking, while the other encourages healthy drinking habits.
Two diffferent warning labels will be added to alcohol containers in Yukon in the coming months, as part of an ongoing Health Canada study. One label warns of the cancer risk associated with drinking, while the other encourages healthy drinking habits. (Government of Yukon)

Labels that warn "alcohol can cause cancer ... including breast and colon cancers". Another that with the use of graphic images recommends that women have no more than two standard drinks daily; men three drinks. Both should set aside two or more non-drinking days weekly to "reduce health risks". While a third label will explain that five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of spirits represent a standard drink.

Dr. Hobin and a team of researchers put together those labels, and set about at the urging of authorities in the Yukon through the Yukon Liquor Corporation, to hand-affix stickers to thousands of bottles in Whitehorse, as a Canadian first in a type of warning exercise for consumers who may not know how vulnerable they can be when drinking to excess.

Bottles of liquor, wine and allied alcohol in the stores operating in the territory now include these large stickers advising that drinking alcohol has the potential of causing breast and colon caner, offering information on "safe" consumption levels. Two studies launched by Ms. Hobin and colleagues at the University of Victoria led to this initiative whose effect on the public will undergo analysis over the next eight months.

This effort is in lock-step with health groups all over the world attempting to make people aware of alcohol's carcinogenic potential. Korea is unique in having a similar program, though it's labels fail to mention cancers in particular. In the United States there are warning labels on alcohol of a sort; text-only messages in small print addressing known risks of drunk driving and drinking while pregnant.

The labelling runs the risk of irritating some consumers. And the reality is also that many people become inured to the presence of label warnings, and ultimately they have little positive effect. But a study undertaken by Hobin and her colleagues through focus groups held in the Yukon concluded "strong support" for warnings, participants urging that larger ones including pictograms be favoured.


Yukon launches alcohol warning labels linking alcohol and various cancers - a world first! labelling

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

How (Damningly) Sweet It Is

"The study in question ended for three reasons, none of which involved potential research findings." "The delay overlapped with an organizational restructuring with the Sugar Research Foundation becoming a new entity, the International Sugar Research Foundation."
"[The new paper represents] a collection of speculations and assumptions about events that happened nearly five decades ago [written and funded by] known critics of the sugar industry."
"[The study was halted not as a result of] potential research findings [but rather because it was behind schedule and over budget]."
The Sugar Association, trade group, Washington, D.C.

"Let's say this study had been going the other way and you could have fed these animals massive amounts of sugar and it didn't do anything. I'm sure [the sugar industry] would not have cut off the funding. They would be out there thumping the tub -- 'Look, we fed these rats, like, five gazillion pounds of sugar and it didn't matter'."
"What the sugar industry successively did, is they shifted all of the blame onto fats."
Stanton Glantz, professor, division of cardiology, University of California, San Francisco
A new report reveals how the industry influenced research in the 1960s to deflect concerns about the impact of sugar on health — including pulling the plug on a study it funded.  Karen M. Romanko/Getty Images
A new controversy has erupted over the role of sugar consumption in human health and disease outcomes related to over-consumption. The original study in question, dating back to 1968 and carried into 1970 was known as "Project 259". It appeared to discover that rodents fed a high-sucrose diet contained higher levels of an enzyme in their urine previously associated with bladder cancer in rats, according to the latest analysis of "the sugar papers" whose contents from a cache of internal memos, letters and company reports were discovered by University of California at San Francisco researchers.

The predecessor to the current International Sugar Research Foundation, the Sugar Research Foundation, had enlisted the scholarly service of a researcher to lead a study with laboratory animals and it is this study, initiated in 1968 that appeared to show a link between high sugar consumption and an increase in the test animals' triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat circulating in the blood which affect gut bacteria. High triglycerides in humans may increase risk of heart attack and stroke. An enzyme associated with blood cancer was also discovered in the urine of rats fed sugar.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Deliberate Negligence

"He knew he was making nonsterile drugs. Glenn Chin just didn't care."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Strachan

"The underlying factor is that the company got greedy and overextended and we got sloppy, and something happened,"
"We became a manufacturer overnight. So we were basically trying to have the best of both worlds." "We were going to hurt a patient. We were just thinking hurt a patient. We weren't compounding anymore, we were manufacturing."
Joe Connolly, NECC lab technician

"[It was] a complete investigatory failure on the part of the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]. The FDA could not determine the route of contamination. That was what their job was."
"Glenn Chin didn't know how to supervise anybody. Glenn Chin was not competent to do that job. Glenn Chin would do anything and everything Barry Cadden told him to do."
"Negligence, even gross culpable negligence, is not enough to support a second-degree murder conviction."
Stephen Weymouth, lawyer 
Barry Cadden, president of the New England Compounding Center, was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the deadly outbreak. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
Barry Cadden, president of the New England Compounding Center, was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the deadly outbreak. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

When the month-long trial of the owner and the supervisor of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts concluded, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Strachan gave her summation, then showed the jury photographs of 25 people, victims of contamination in supposedly sterile drugs who succumbed to fungal meningitis, people who lived in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Glenn Chin whose position it was to supervise 20 people at the compounding center, faced a life sentence if he was convicted on a number of charges, including second-degree murder. Glenn Chin was described during trial procedures as the right-hand man of the person who had, with his wife, founded the New England Compounding Center, in 1998. Barry Cadden, that man, also faced trial on the same charges.

In March he was convicted on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and racketeering, but acquitted on the charge of second-degree murder. He faces nine years in prison. Former NECC employees testified that cleaning logs were falsified, untested drugs shipped without alerting doctors and patients. The facility had a "clean room" where drugs were produced and it was there that deadly mold took hold when cracks in the floor became their breeding ground.

Despite knowing that the drugs the center was shipping off to doctors for use on their patients were compromised, Mr. Chin signed off on contaminated drugs to meet the pressure of client demand for the products produced by NECC. Chin and Cadden did more than cut corners; they made use of expired medication, mislabeled drugs and took to distributing drugs they well knew could be fungus-tainted.


(Cadden hired unqualified staff, ordering employees to cut corners for increased production and profit.
When Chin was hired in 2004, he also had no professional experience in compounding drugs or sterilization, learning everything from Cadden.)


That situation led to an outbreak of fungal meningitis. The disease claimed 76 lives and up to 700 infectious illnesses right across the country. Lawyer Weymouth informed jurors of a 2012 investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which failed to reveal the source of the contamination. One microbiologist  with the investigating team took swabs of the center's roof and boiler room, but missed samples of the clean room where medications were produced.

The Compounding Center advertised itself to doctors and hospitals as trustworthy, and the best compounding pharmacy in the country. It became such a trusted source of medications it could barely keep pace with the orders country-wide as the compounding pharmacy made and shipped drugs filling orders that hugely profited the center. While in reality some of those drugs were contaminated with a deadly mould.

The center was not the sterile, reliable, trustworthy place its owner claimed it to be. It was plagued by bugs and mice and for a facility that was expected to observe punctilious cleanliness to ensure its products were unfailingly beyond reproach, it was instead, filthy. The jury was informed that Chin had time and again ignored warning signs that the "clean room" had become a source of contamination.

The technicians working there claimed to have been intimidated by their supervisor, Glenn Chin, who followed orders from the owner, Barry Cadden. Sales representatives of the center assured medical centers, doctors and hospitals for years that the compounding center hired registered, trained technicians, and all medication was tested ensuring sterility, then place in quarantine before being shipped off. All these assurances were simply figments of imaginary assurances.

The contaminated injections of medical steroids which lead to an outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections mostly affected people with back pain for whom the steroids were meant, with the result that 700 people in 20 states became ill in the most serious public health crisis in recent U.S. medical history. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64 people died as a result in 2012, while federal officials raised the total number of deaths to 76.

When the jurors returned with their verdict it was to find the supervisory pharmacist who oversaw the clean room and where he himself formulated the drugs in the mold-contaminated room that spread to the medication, not responsible for the deaths of people who wee injected with those contaminated drugs. They held that prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a doubt that Mr. Chin was responsible.
Glenn Chin, the supervisory pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center, departs federal court after attending the first day of his trial on Sept. 19. (Steven Senne/AP)
Glenn Chin, the supervisory pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compound Center, departs federal court after attending the first day of his trial on September 19.  Steven Senne/AP

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

LGBTQ2 The Inquisition Lives!

Pronoun guidance

"It is hard to imagine that a court would make such a finding [of discrimination]."
"The point of showing the video was to discuss the content of the ideas, and a court would have to balance the rights to non-discrimination with the values of academic freedom and freedom of expression."
Law Professor Brenda Cossman, University of Toronto

"I'm familiar with U.of T professor Dr. Jordan B. Peterson]. I follow him. But can you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure that they are insulated away from this [controversy over policy guidelines that refusal to refer to an individual by their self-identified personal pronoun]? Like, is that what the point of this [interview] is? Because to me, that is so against what a university is about. So against it. I was not taking sides, I was presenting both arguments."
"...When they [students] leave the university they're going to be exposed to these ideas, so I don't see how I'm doing a disservice to the class by exposing them to ideas that are really out there. And I'm sorry I'm crying. I'm stressed out because this to me is so wrong, so wrong."
"I don't get why I'm being seen as transphobic by virtue, by proxy, of me saying saying, just stating, just exposing people to an idea."
Lindsay Shepherd, teaching assistant, Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario
Dr. Jordan Peterson (left), Lindsay Shepherd (right)  Vice  The head of Wilfrid Laurier University officially apologized to a teaching assistant for a meeting in which she was berated for playing a video clip of controversial professor Jordan Peterson in a classroom.

"So the thing about this is, if you're presenting something like this, you have to think about the kind of teaching climate that you're creating. And this is actually, these arguments are counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code. Even since ... C-16, ever since this passed, it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression."
"I understand the position that you're coming from and your positionality, but the reality is that it has created a toxic climate for some of the students, you know...."
"It's more about the effect than the intention. Obviously that wasn't your intention. But, nevertheless, it disturbed students enough...."
Nathan Rambukkana, supervising professor, Wilfred Laurier University

"Um, so gender-based violence, transphobia, in that policy. Causing harm, um, to trans students by, uh, bringing their identity as invalid."
"Their pronouns as invalid - potentially invalid."
Adria Joel, manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support, Wilfred Laurier University
Wilfrid Laurier University professors Nathan Rambukkana, left, and Herbert Pimlott, right, reprimanded teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd for showing a video featuring controversial U of T professor Jordan Peterson without denouncing his views. Wilfrid Laurier University

Well then, is it understood now that society must gird itself punctiliously and take steps to extend their pronoun vocabulary to include ... let's see: "zim", "xe", "thon", "herm", and a galaxy of others, because the simple fact of politically correct life is that these and other pronouns are now required of those among us of patience and goodwill to surrender our conventional use of civil language to denote the presence among us of the aggrieved, the dreadfully wronged victims of yore, demanding their just due.

As respected members of our society, of course. Not so much respected any longer are those who hold out in respect of conventional civility and language to match, language that reflects heritage and culture, not so much dependent on the whims of the entitled who from the depths of their juvenile-arrested minds insist that society turn itself inside-out on their behalf. Which is to say, to mollify their outraged sensibilities that there any any among us so warped and cruel that we would deny them this yet-another victory foisted upon an appeasing public.
University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson. Tyler Anderson / National Post

And if there is any one single individual who has stepped into the foetid, roiling swamp of blame for upsetting the trans applecart, it can be none other than clinical psychologist and tenured professor of psychology at University of Toronto. Who, in a fit of displeasure at the pressures in the university environment to conform to popular demand that whining gender-confused students be 'respected' by acknowledging that they are not to be insulted through being addressed as 'her', 'him', 'ms' or 'mr', while 'they', bending the plural toward a singular gender-neutral designation is preferred.

By defying the appeasement of these childish demands, Professor Peterson has been identified as a Nazi, no less. He has become notorious, his name and his refusal to bow to the demands of irate transgenders and their myriad of supporters, inclusive of the very-careful-to-accede-to-left-society's championing of LGBTQ2 'rights' against the transgressors who revel in denying them, he has become anathema to right-thinkers, and a champion of the troglodytes who revel in denying trans' "human rights" entitlements.

Clearly, Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, is one of those backward types having brought in a video of an interview taken from a well-known and -watched television show, The Agenda, interviewing Dr. Peterson on the politics of grammar, so virulently controversial. For her students, felt Ms. Shepherd, this was as good a lesson as any on communications, language and the intersection of politics. She presented this lesson neutrally, content to have the students reach their own conclusions. For which sin she was brought  to an interview with university heavies to 'explain herself'.
The Globe and Mail
Several hundred students attend a rally protesting the views of U of T professor Jordan Peterson, who refuses to use non binary pronouns.    Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail
In June the federal Liberal government passed Bill C-16 prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression, an initiative typical of this government that celebrates free speech rights, yet enacted this legislation that restricts free speech. It is a measure undertaken to stifle controversy over addressing trans people in the manner to which they prefer to be addressed, by insisting under the law that this is not a matter of free choice, but mandatory. On the other hand because the bill criminalizes extreme speech, it's hard to see how insulting a trans person by referring to that person as he or she would fall under that category.

Canada's hate-crime laws include inciting to genocide or deliberately inciting to hatred toward an identifiable group in categories inclusive of colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation and mental or physical disability; fairly exhaustive. Charges can be laid only with the approval of a provincial attorney general. The Ontario Human Rights Commission's policy guideline claims that "refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun" could be considered gender-based harassment.

But a witch-hunt, an inquisition has been launched and in fact, hatred and blame attached squarely to the reputation of Dr. Peterson, as an enemy of alt-gendered victims of societal discrimination. The lines have been drawn; all those who believe that Dr. Peterson's reaction to an unreasonable demand that societal attitudes and an entire language undergo a change to pacify the demands of a tiny segment of society is reasoned and reasonable, are themselves now charged with unforgivably, criminal phobic behaviour.

Cassandra Williams, a U of T student union member, at a Peterson protest in October. Peterson sparked a storm by declaring he would not use pronouns, such as "they," to recognize non-binary genders.
Cassandra Williams, a U of T student union member, at a Peterson protest in October. Peterson sparked a storm by declaring he would not use pronouns, such as "they," to recognize non-binary genders.  (Vince Talotta)

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Chronic Inflammation

"You’re going to have occasional inflammation from minor infections, allergies or injuries. This is normal. And every bump and bruise does not require an anti-inflammatory medication."
"However, you can focus on lifestyle choices that reduce your risk of chronic inflammation — the kind that leads to disease. Many lifestyle factors have been shown to play a part in cellular inflammation: smoking, obesity, chronic stress and drinking alcohol excessively, for example. Fortunately, you can control these factors."
Cleveland Clinic
Image result
Harvard Health

The five major signs of acute inflammation - "PRISH"

  • Pain - the inflamed area is likely to be painful, especially when touched. Chemicals that stimulate nerve endings are released, making the area much more sensitive.
  • Redness - this is because the capillaries are filled up with more blood than usual.
  • Immobility - there may be some loss of function.
  • Swelling - caused by an accumulation of fluid.
  • Heat - more blood in the affected area makes it feel hot to the touch.
These five acute inflammation signs are only relevant when the affected area is on or very close to the skin. When inflammation occurs deep inside the body, such as an internal organ, only some of the signs may be detectable
Medical News Today
When your immune system is continually on alert, what results is systemic inflammation (chronic) a process injurious to long-term health. Leading causes of acute inflammation include a totally unhealthy lifestyle, inclusive of diet, sedentary habits, stress and lack of adequate rejuvenating rest during the night-time hours. Environmental pollutants also have a role to play in chronic inflammatory onset.

In the presence of long-term, untreated chronic inflammation, many chronic diseases can result inclusive of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancers. Lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke can be effectively achieved by reducing inflammation, and to successfully achieve this, diet and lifestyle alterations must be considered as urgent changes leading to improved health.

There is ample research indicating that a diet focusing on anti-inflammatory foods is capable of diminishing chronic disease risk while promoting gut and brain health, and slowing the pace of skin aging. An anti-inflammatory diet introduced for that very purpose holds the promise of adding quality years to one's life. What is known familiarly as the Mediterranean diet is the optimum model.

Processed foods have no place in an ideal, healthful diet, but whole foods such as are known to be nutritious and wholesome do. Fish eaten at least twice weekly, preferably salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies and trout are ideal choices. Nuts and seeds have an anti-inflammatory effect; walnuts and almonds in particular, while olive oil, the choice in a Mediterranean diet, is rated high in  antioxidants.

Leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and kale, along with the cruciferous family of vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower deserve a special place on a healthy dinner plate, along with onions and garlic known as anti-inflammatory powerhouses. And nor should fruit such as berries, cherries and oranges be ignored among fruit choices, with the highest anti-inflammatory effect.

Oats, quinoa and other whole grains are useful in anti-inflammatory diets, as are pulses; beans, peas and lentils, high in fibre and magnesium which aids in reducing inflammation. But the other component of a healthy lifestyle is activity, getting out and taxing your body through physical activity whether it is walking, bicycling, swimming or hiking; some measure of using your muscles not your car to get around adds immeasurably to the health-quality of life.

Image result for photos, healthy diet

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Suspending Credulity

"The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain-dead organ donors is the next stage."
"We have entered an age where we will take our destiny back in our hands. Today, we stand on the brink of a revolution, not only in medicine but in human life as well."
Sergio Canavero, Italian surgeon
13_11_canavero
Jeff J.Mitchell/Getty Images    Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero

This is a man who appears to misspeak, for there was never a time when any living thing,designed by nature, was the master of its own destiny; that being the case, how can humankind 'take our destiny back in our hands'? as he exults in announcing that a surgical team he has coached in China has managed to transfer a head from one cadaver to the body of another cadaver? Of a certainty, the man is fixated on his theory that a severed spine can be repaired, that human consciousness can be transferred from one source to another.

Dr. Canavero along with a Chinese colleague, Dr. Xiaoping Ren, published in the journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics an account of an experiment that transplanted the heads of laboratory rats on the back of the necks of larger recipient rats, fourteen of which survived for a day and a half, back in April. They described a special pump and tubes used in the rat surgeries ensuring adequate blood supply to the donor's brain until the head was connected to the recipient.

Sergio-Canavero Xiaoping Ren
Xiaoping Ren and Sergio Canavero, the surgeons behind the plans for the world's first human head transplant.   Newsweek
"The whole operation process preserves the carotid arteries, jugular veins and vertebral arteries", they wrote. The Italian surgeon created HEAVEN: the 'head anastomosis venture' project. Obviously if his theory could rival nature's creative process, why not coopt heaven too? Two surgical teams working together cut away two men's heads one of whom is the 'recipient', the other, an accident victim for example whose brain is dead but whose body is otherwise healthy is considered the 'donor'.

The recipient's head is placed on the donor body with the use of a specialized swivel crane after which it is reconnected and the trachea, esophagus, carotid arteries and jugular veins are stitched together and the wait ensues for the recipient to awaken and above all, move; a healthy brain/head whose ailing body has been replaced with a healthy one to produce an altogether functional and healthy whole.

This procedure, using two cadavers as a premiere to a progression toward restoring complete body health to an individual whose body has failed and whose brain is fully functioning, fusing his head to a healthy body whose brain is declared dead, took 18 hours to complete. It took place , according to the two surgeons, at Harbin Medical University, China. Its success giving Dr. Canavero the material for a book, Medicus Magnus; the Revolution Medicine and How We Utilize It.

Others in the medical community are yet to be persuaded, while bio-ethicists declare the surgeon to be reckless in his ambition. No one has yet been able to repair a spinal cord completely disconnected, according to other transplant surgeons. And there's the niggling little suspicion that once the transplanted head has been firmly established on someone else's body, should the procedure succeed, what guarantees are there that the original mind will dominate?

A similar operation on a live human will take place 'imminently', the controversial professor claims. Professor Canavero (right) made the announcement at a press conference in Vienna this morning (live stream pictured)
A similar operation on a live human will take place 'imminently', the controversial professor claims. Professor Canavero (right) made the announcement at a press conference in Vienna this morning (live stream pictured)

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mutilation as a Chastity Belt

"Those who practiced it [female genital cutting] felt it was their private issue. People can be very angry, like us, in the beginning. No one wants their tradition to be judged negatively."
"[When Molly Melching, community worker] brought this information, [the harmful effects of genital cutting], I was very defensive and angry. After a few backs and forths with her, I realized it was very harmful."
"At the beginning, people would rather die than abandon it [the practise of genital cutting]. No one would believe this could happen, to stand publicly against family, government."
"[But], we were very diplomatic. Sometimes we felt shy or wanted to run away. But even if I was rejected, I went back [to each village visited]. You have to persevere."
"My advice is to be patient and analyze each situation and not to impose your thoughts on people. If you impose, people can be defensive."
Demba Kiawara, 80, village imam, Keur Simbara, Senegal

"[Trying to influence people whose custom it was that female genital cutting was an absolute religious requirement had to be done patiently and carefully, otherwise ending the practise] would involve severe sanctions against any girl who is not cut and would even mean she might be ostracized."
"Mr. Diawara's effectiveness in urgently informing small communities of the dangers inherent in continued female cutting resulted because] he is not judgemental and does not impose. Rather, he explains that this is not a religious obligation and that it has harmful health consequences."
Molly Melching, 67, American community worker, educator, Senegal

"People like me who started school but didn't finish are stubborn and hard to convince."
"At first I was against ending cutting. But we hold Demba dear [and eventually] we came to know what he was saying was grounded in truth."
Mamadou Konate, 59, Keur Simbara

"I was very surprised because we got it from our ancestors."
"When we got all the details, we then said, 'This is something we need to abandon to protect our girls'."
Dusu Konate, 53, Keur Simbara
Senegal's anti-FGM campaigner: 'My child won't be cut'
Students huddle around a traditional clay pot that they draw their FGM stories on [Fatma Naib/Al Jazeera]

When the message was disseminated, bit by bit, it was received with shock. A highly respected elder, a religious figure of renown, a Muslim imam, was informing villagers that the ages-old custom of cutting the genitals of young girls resulted in direct, long-term physical harm done them, quite aside from the psychological trauma suffered by girls of all ages, held down forcibly while someone took a sharp piece of metal, a knife, or a glass, to cut away her clitoris, the pleasure-source of a female during intercourse.

In tribal, primitive, authoritarian, patrilineal societies across Africa and the Middle East, mostly Muslim societies, this was viewed as a measure that would tame female sexuality. Suffering pain, not pleasure during sexual intercourse, pain throughout the menstrual cycle, pain during childbirth, women's natural sense of sexual arousal would be tamped down, to ensure they would remain chaste, avoiding any kind of extramarital relations, completely loyal to a husband. That often children bled to death in the process or sustained lethal infections failed to warn of the consequences of the practise.

There are various types of genital cutting; in some societies it is minimal, in others it is quite viciously dangerous, but any type of practise of this kind represents a patriarchal attack on women's sexuality, the end result being to treat girls and women as chattels, not independent human beings with sovereign human rights attached to them. In Senegal, the most extreme type of genital mutilation traditionally takes place where the clitoris and parts of the labia are removed, the vagina sealed partly closed.

In the 1980s, American Molly Melching arrived in Senegal for the purpose of educating villagers in Senegal who had had he benefit of little formal education. She and her team of community workers taught classes in basic literacy in health, sanitation, governance and human rights. She had gained the trust of those she taught and her reputation preceded her. A decade after her first appearance, local women broached the topic of genital cutting during discussions of women's reproductive health.

And that led to a more wide and general discussion incorporating the practise of genital cutting, when the women appear to have been introduced for the first time to the dangers inherent in genital cutting. It seems they had never on their own linked that custom with the problems they all experienced with menstruation, childbirth and sex. And when that link was made and the discussions explored all of these details and links, a storm of controversy ensued. After all, if a marriageable girl or woman had never been 'cut', she was considered undesirable as a wife.



But this information came from someone who spoke their language, who lived among them, whom they had learned over the years to trust. This was a wise woman, a woman who listened to their stories, went out of her way to help solve their problems. Ms. Melching had founded a nonprofit whose purpose was to educate the poor, to reduce poverty, and eventually Tostan was recognized for its work to end genital cutting. Eventually the Senegalese government adopted the approach taken by Tostan to educate villagers in their native language to surrender the age-old practise.

Images from the anti-FGM 'It Happens Here' campaign
Images from the award-winning but controversial anti-FGM charity 'It Happens Here' ad campaign Photo: Ogilvy and Mather/28 Too Many

A 2014 survey undertaken in Senegal concluded that among women aged 15 to 19 years, 21 percent had undergone cutting; that number less than the 25 percent in 2005. In one region, however the rate of cutting among all ages proved as high as 92 percent. Tostan has since expanded its service and purpose to an additional seven African countries where over 200,000 people participated in its three-year education program, leading 80,000 communities to publicly abandon female cutting, child marriage and forced marriage.

Without influential local leaders like Imam Diawar the challenge would have been more formidable than it turned out to be. He travelled by foot or horse cart to 359 villages, making use of extended family links and social networks to help deliver his message. He has since spoken to international audiences in Egypt, New York, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States, with Ms. Melching often accompanying him to translate from his native language.

Sister Fa, a Senegalese rapper, has been conducting workshops with children, parents, local rappers and the wider community to raise awareness about children's rights - especially for girls - and the dangers of cutting. [FatmaNaib/Al Jazeera]

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