Thursday, December 24, 2009

Variations on a Theme

It can be quite frustrating when people refuse to accept science (or anything for that matter) because they fear it may not coincide with their religious beliefs. I could sit here lamenting for hours about how infuriating these types of people can be. I won’t. Instead I would like to explore why these people frustrate me.

I just graduated from BYU with a bachelors of science. During the coarse of my studies I have had the opportunity to study a variety of subjects including molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, physiology and human anatomy. Each subject is complex in its own way, with mysteries waiting to be unraveled by the inquiring student. The more time I spent with a subject the more its usefulness was magnified and the more profound its insights became. Religious people should be able to relate to this since the same thing happens with the gospel. (LDS people see Alma 32).

Understanding this, how can somebody dismiss a scientific theory without even understanding the science it is founded on? Surely not in good conscience! Obviously I am referring to evolution here, but I don’t think I need to limit it to that. It is bad for someone to dismiss anything purely out of fear stemming from not understanding. In the end, this type of attitude will damage the religion it is trying to protect.

I am almost finished reading Your Inner Fish and a line inspired me to write this quick post. Neil Subin says, “when you see these deep similarities among different organs and bodies, you begin to recognize that the diverse inhabitants of our world are just variations on a theme.” This was profound to me, but only because I have invested in discovering some of the “deep similarities” that we have with other living things.

In order to understand the conclusion you must first see the supporting data. Please, before you dismiss evolution, do your homework.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Things I Am Thankful For:

It’s Christmas time, a time where we visit family and friends, give to others in various ways, and spread Christmas cheer (yeah, I just watched Elf :-). With the spirit  of Christmas resonating in my soul, I want to take a moment and express a few of the things I am most thankful for. These are in no particular order:

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  • My wife Melanie: Mel makes my life better in ways I could never have imagined before I met her. There was a line in “500 hundred days of Summer” which really struck a chord in me when one of the characters was asked whether or not his wife was the girl of his dreams. He said no, and added that he is glad she is not because there are so many things about his wife that he could never dream of and now cannot do without. That sums up Melanie for me. I have no idea how i got along without her and I am thrilled every time i discover more things about her. She makes life fun and I love her for that.

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  • Brigham Young University: Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk once called “The Widow’s Mite.” In it he discusses how blessed we are as BYU students to study for such a low cost, and how he fears more than anything that we take this experience for granted. I am about to graduate from BYU with a phenomenal cache of resume points and experiences which will prepare me for medical school. I have been blessed to have a full-tuition scholarship and tons of grant money which have enabled Melanie and I not only to graduate debt free, but with a little bit of savings as well. What an awesome University; I definitely plan on giving back in some way a few years down the road.

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  • My family: I laugh to myself when I think about all the fights I used to get into with my parents in high school. The problem back then was that i didn’t communicate with them. I am grateful that this is no longer the case. I call my parents all the time now, confide with them about my problems and fears, and receive great advice. They are great in-laws for Melanie and will be great grandparents (when that time comes ;-). Devan has always been close to me and I consider him my best friend. Nothing like going to one of his comedy shows, watching a good Lakers game, or giving him a hard time about not being married. Emily is one of the sweetest people in the world, up there with Mel. I’m glad she is my only sister. Freeman and Gavin are growing up fast. They are both going to do great things in life, both in the Church and in the world. Family is awesome.

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  • Melanie’s family: I couldn’t ask for a better mother- or father-in-law. Peter is stored in the same compartment in my mind as Indiana Jones. He is constantly looking for adventure and tries to bring us along for the ride. I have been most impressed with his testimony of Christ’s gospel. Many little things about the way he acts stand as a witness to me that he knows Christ. Luckily, he instilled much of this into Mel’s personality as well. One word that describes Toni is compassionate. She seems to live her life in the constant service of others. When i met Mel something that stood out to me was her unconditional love for everyone. When I met Toni I discovered where Mel got that from. Both Mel’s mom and Dad are dear to me.

These are a few things I am grateful for. I encourage everyone to take some time and express gratitude for things in your life.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Your Inner Fish

So My birthday was yesterday, and my lovely wife knew just what to get me: a stack of books! I couldn't wait to start reading one of them called Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin a paleontologist and professor of human anatomy at the University of Chicago's medical school.


I got through the preface and the first chapter before I went to bed and have loved it so far. In essence the purpose of the book is to describe structurally how we have evolved from fish. Dr. Shubin was one of the people who discovered a fossil representing an intermediate form between fish and land animals with limbs and necks. This fossil is called Tiktaalik and was unearthed in the Canadian arctic. What impressed me about the first chapter was that Dr. Shubin was able to predict where he would find this fossil based on how old the dig site was (approx. 375 million years old). That is great evidence supporting evolution. Scientists are able to predict where to find transitional fossils and sure enough, they go out and find them.

I'm sure this book will fill my head with many more insights worthy of blogging about so stay tuned :-)

Some other books Mel got me are:

The Language of God by Francis Collins (I read this one over the summer and am excited to read it again)
Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth Miller
Only a Theory by Kenneth Miller (his lecture really left an impression on Mel and I)
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman (I read half of this over the summer and am excited to finish it)

Cheers.

Leia Mais…

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pythagoreans and Beans


We are covering the presocratic period right now in my science and civilization class. Today I learned something about the Pythagorean brotherhood that I thought was too funny not to share. The Pythagorean's legacy includes beneficial discoveries such as mathematical ratios and musical theory. It is also rich in the ridiculous. For example, one of the rules of the Pythagorean brotherhood is to not eat beans (my little brother Freeman and my sister-in-law Marissa may see this as wisdom). They believed in reincarnation and the bean was thought to be a living reincarnated soul. This belief came about and was reinforced by the bean's effect on the body. You know what I'm talking about right? Once eaten you can feel the bean moving around in your stomach. Occasionally this living entity will even lead to small bursts of flatulence :-). Awesome belief.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Evolution: What About God?

Melanie is taking the evolutionary analysis class at BYU right now and she had me watch this video with her for a homework assignment. I think it is worth watching for any thinking Christian.


Leia Mais…

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Graduation and Camping (Pictures)

Here are some pictures from graduation:

Mel's parents came from Bangkok, and mine from California


Right after convocation


In front of the BYU sign


After Graduation I spent 6 of the next 9 days in the wild! After reading Brave New World and feeling how crazy my life has been, it was therapeutic to relax with family in the woods:


Our hike up the backside of Timp


We went camping at Trial lake and saw a Golden eagle hunting for fish


Some random waterfall





Our hike from the Crystal Lake trailhead; this is at Long Lake


Letting Mel feel how cold my hands were


A shot of the Eagle flying home after its hunt; that bird was seriously one of the most awesome animal sightings I've seen in nature

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Myths of Primary Care


Many people think they don't need to go see a primary care physician (family doctor). They think that specialists handle difficult diseases and so any simpler disease will be no problem for them. These people are wrong.

Dr. Erick Cassell wrote:

"A common error in thinking about primary care is to set it as entry level medicine... and, because of this, rudimentary medicine-for mostly (say) the common cold and imaginary illnesses. This is a false notion... The higher we go on the scale of a specialist training, the less complex the medical problem becomes... One should not confuse highly technical, even comlicated, medical knowledge-special practical knowledge about an unusual disease, treatment (complex chemotherapy, for example), condition, or technology-with the complex, many-sided worldly-wise knowledge we expect of the best physicians... The narrowest subspecialist, the reasoning goes, should be able to provide this range of medical services. This naive idea arises, as do many other wrong beliefs about primary care, because of the concept that doctors take care of diseases. Diseases, the idea goes on, form a hierarchy from simple to difficult. Specialists take care of difficult diseases, so, of coarse, they will naturally do a good job on simple diseases. Wrong. Doctors take care of people, some of whom have diseases and all of whom have some problem. People used to doing complicated things usually do complicated things in simple situations-for example, ordering tests or x-rays when waiting a few days might suffice-thus overtreating people with simple illnesses and overlooking the clues about other problems that might have brought the patient to the doctor."

(taken from How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman pgs. 97 and 98)

Leia Mais…

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quick Hmong History

While serving a mission for the LDS church, I learned the Hmong language and served among the Hmong people living in Wisconsin. Hmong people have a unique language and culture. They are a fun loving people with vivid stories and superstitions. The time I spent working with them was very enjoyable and taught me a lot about the world we live in. Here's a quick seven minute documentary sharing their history. enjoy!

Leia Mais…

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Trial of Galileo Galilei


In Vatican City’s Holy Palace

August 2nd, 2009

Minutes recorded by Aaron Butler


Deposition:

Summoned to the Holy Palace, in the presence of leaders from major Christian Churches of the world, including Pope Benedict XVI, and the Prosecutor of His Holy Office, Galileo Galilei, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, having taken a formal oath to tell the truth, was asked the following:

Q: Why have you come to Vatican City? Was it on your own accord or were you summoned?

A: In Florence, the Father Inquisitor ordered me to come to Vatican City and present myself to the Holy Office, and I obeyed.

Q: Do you know the reason you were summoned?

A: I imagine it is a consequence of my recently published book: Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Creation Theories. When summoned, publication of my book was ordered to be discontinued and the book was ordered to be taken off the shelves of church funded libraries, bookstores, educational institutions, and so forth.

Q: Would you please explain to the court the nature of your book?

A: In my book, I explored the two major theories within Christianity of the creation process: Evolution and Creationism or its predecessor Intelligent Design. The book contains the dialogue between two men, Salviati and Simplicio, debating the legitimacy of each theory. The open minded Sagredo mediated these discussions.

Q: Is this the book? (holds up the book).

A: Yes.

Q: Have you ever discussed the contents of this book with anyone present here today?

A: Yes, before Pope Benedict XVI became the pope, we would discuss extensively the theoretical mechanisms by which the inhabitants of the earth came to be.

Q: What specifically did you discuss with Pope Benedict XVI?

A: At the time, Cardinal Benedict was interested in the theories of Copernicus, the concept of natural selection, the fossil record, evidence of different hominid species, genetics, irreducible complexity, and other things of this nature. Since Copernicus’ writings are difficult to understand for people unfamiliar with biology, and much data has been collected since he first hypothesized the origin of species, he asked me to elaborate on the specifics of these topics and how they related to religious doctrine or contradicted Ptolemy’s theories of creation.

Q: How did the Pope feel about your ideas?

A: He held that man was created in God’s image, that there was no death before Adam, and that mankind had inhabited the earth for less than ten thousand years. Essentially he believed in Ptolemy’s theory of creation. Despite our difference of opinion on these points, he was open to hear me out, and defended his opinions, which I respectfully listened to.

Q: Is it true that the Pope asked you to write your book?

A: He didn’t ask per se, he thought it would help more people to understand both sides of the argument if a book was written like the one I wrote. Since concepts of genetics, the fossil record, and natural selection in general can be hard for the general public to understand in their entirety, we both thought it would be good for a book to be written in the layman’s language.

Q: Are you aware of the church’s position on this matter?

A: When I had my discussions with then Cardinal Benedict, there was no official position that I was aware of, besides the traditionally held concept of a creator, Adam and Eve, and other biblical concepts. Later in our discussions Cardinal Benedict told me that the scriptures contradicted the theory of evolution in regard to humankind’s appearance on the earth. He said the theory of evolution should be held to be suppositional, not absolute. In his own way, he endorsed teaching evolution as a scientific theory.

Q: At what point of time were you convinced of the theory of evolution?

A: I have been convinced of this ever since I began my research in genetics, due to the great amount of evidence contained in our genome.

Q: Is this not in contradiction to what the church allowed you to teach?

A: It must be stated that in science, facts and theories are not used in the same way they are in common language. A theory takes individual facts, observed during experimentation or otherwise in nature, and connects them into a pattern or paradigm that is able to predict the manner in which future facts will be observed. Theories are subject to change, most theories are eventually proven wrong. For me to accept the theory of evolution does not contradict what the church has decreed because I too hold that the theory of evolution is not absolutely true, but the best description we have, given the evidences we have observed in nature. In this way the theory of evolution is useful for scientists.

Q: Did not the church put out an official statement, called The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory, stating that no member shall defend or hold to the theory of evolution in regard to mankind?

A: When I first came to Rome seventeen years ago, I received a proclamation that I was to not defend the theory of evolution.

Q: Would you consider your book in violation of this official church order?

A: No, the intention of my book is not to defend the theory of evolution, but instead to put forth a discussion describing and refuting it.

Q: Did you receive permission to write your book?

A: Because I didn’t think it was against the official statement put out by the church, I did not see a need to seek permission from the church to write or publish my book.

Q: So, you neither received permission to write your book, nor do you consider what you wrote to be in conflict with the guidelines set out by the church?

A: That is correct.

After hearing the testimony of Galileo Galilei, he is ordered to stay in Rome, and to return to this Holy Court to present an argument for his case three days from today.

I, Galileo Galilei, have testified as stated above.

Prosecution:

Galileo Galilei has intentionally taught things contrary to the church’s official position. His book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Creation Theories, has obvious bias towards evolution being the truth, something which is blasphemous to be taught. He testified three days ago at his deposition that he has “been convinced of [evolution] ever since [he] began [his] research in genetics, due to the great amount of evidence contained in our genome.” How can he say that his intention was to refute the theory of evolution, when he admits to believing in it himself? More importantly, everyone who has read his book bears witness to the fact that the character defending Ptolemy, Simplicio, is made to be intellectually inferior to the advocator of evolution, Salviati. There is no way that Galileo can say that his book is not in conflict with the official statement put out by the church in regards to defending evolution, for clearly the purpose and result of his book is to defend vehemently the theory of evolution.

Now it is my duty as the Prosecutor of His Holy Office, to set forth the doctrine behind Intelligent Design and Creationism, and the fallacy which is the theory of evolution.

First of all, evolution is an atheistic concept, aimed at taking God out of people’s minds and letting science explain the origin of life. Because of this, evolution must be resisted by all believers of God. Secondly, evolution is fundamentally flawed, since it cannot account for the irreducible complexity seen in nature. Let me take a moment to expound upon this latter point.

Ptolemy taught long ago that complexity requires a designer. This point is intuitive, as Ptolemy illustrates in this story:

“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that for any thing I knew to the contrary it had lain there for ever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not admissible in the second case as it is in the first? For this reason, and no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive—what we could not discover in the stone—that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.”

In other words, the watch’s mechanism is so complicated it could not have happened by chance. The same is true with many components of living things. We call this irreducible complexity. If you take a look in a cell, you will be amazed by all the intricate machinery contained within. There are mechanisms by which DNA is transcribed into RNA which is then translated into protein. There is machinery that moves the cell around and others that transmit signals to the cell surface to communicate with other complex machines outside the cell. The human eye is a prime example of something that cannot be explained by evolution. Here is an organ that is so complex and magnificent, that its study continues to impress the most devoted student of optics. Without going into detail, the human eye is dependant upon a number of proteins which work together to accomplish the goal of vision. If just one of these proteins is taken away then vision is lost. How then can evolution take credit? If tiny changes over time would yield components of the eye which would not function until the whole eye was finished then evolution wouldn’t work. Small changes giving incomplete eye machinery that cannot function would produce no benefit to the organism and therefore could not be selected for unless an outside source, an intelligent creator, was guiding the process of creation in some way.

Bacterial flagellum is another great example of irreducible complexity. The flagellum is a little motor which a bacteria uses to get around. The flagellum is made up of about thirty proteins, combined in an intricate system. It includes miniature versions of a base anchor, a drive shaft, and a universal joint. All this drives a filament propeller. The whole system is a technological marvel. If any of these thirty proteins is inactivated by genetic mutation then the whole system shuts down, denying the bacteria its ability to propel forward. Just like the human eye, the flagellum would require many small changes over time in order to give function. One small change (or chance mutation) might produce a part of the whole propeller system, but by itself it would serve no function and could not be selected for. Again, evolution alone cannot explain the intricately complex systems seen in living things.

A third point I would like to make in the case against evolution has already been touched on. It is that if evolution can not explain the irreducibly complex systems found in nature, then there must have been an intelligent being to aide in creation. As Christians we know this being to be God, the Almighty Father.

I think it is important to take a moment and clarify which type of evolution we are objecting to here. Evolution has been divided into two parts: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution is changes within a species which brings about subtle differences which may create an advantage and be selected for. Copernicus saw evidence of micro evolution when he collected finches on the Galapagos Islands. The church is not opposed to the idea of microevolution, and evidence of it is not disputed here. Macroevolution says that species evolved from each other. There is no evidence for macroevolution, it is speculation and has not been proven with the fossil record. Macroevolution says that men and apes share a common ancestor, a concept obviously antagonistic towards the Christian belief in Adam and Eve, the Fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Now that I have shown holes in evolutionary logic and evidence, let me explain why evolution is incompatible with a belief in the Christian God.

First of all, the story of the creation states that there was no death before the fall. The Lord warned that death would enter the world if Adam and Eve partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Mortality and death came into the world when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. If Adam and Eve had not partaken of the fruit, everything would have remained exactly the way God created it, and there would be no death. This means that God created the beasts of the field, the birds of prey, the fish of the sea, and every other creature upon the earth as distinct differentiated species, and that death was not involved in the mechanism of this creation.

Also, according to evolution, man appeared on the earth 100,000 years ago. If this is true, then either Adam was created 100,000 years ago or he was not the “first man” as it states in Genesis. The genealogical records contained in the Bible say that man has been on the earth for approximately 6,000 years. Obviously evolution contradicts the biblical account in one way or the other.

Galileo has deceived this court by denying his book’s real intentions. He has surely defended evolution, which according to The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory, is in violation of the church’s doctrine. He advocates atheistic ideas to be taught in church institutions, and as such, is an enemy to the church. Galileo must be held accountable before the church for his actions.

Defense:

I Galileo Galilei, would like to first express my great love and devotion to the church. I am a strong believer in God, one who’s greatest desire is to spread the good news for everyone to hear. The accusation that my book is meant to undermine Christianity troubles me. In my defense I will outline some important evidence supporting evolution, and more specifically what the prosecution calls macroevolution. I then would like to discuss the supposed scriptural doctrine of the creation. I would also like to shed light on the conflict that has supposedly arisen between evolution and the church. I content that there is no such conflict, that this conflict thesis is the product of misunderstanding which has led to fear and hate.

Since we last parted, I have taken some time to reread The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory. I hadn’t read that statement since it first came out many years ago and wanted to be sure of what it said exactly. I then proceeded to reread my book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Creation Theories. As I began reading, I felt as if I were reading it for the first time, with new eyes. The book heavily favors the evolutionary theory, probably representative of my own conviction of that theory. I can readily admit to the court that this is in conflict with the Church’s official statement. Having admitted this, I think the question in everyone’s mind is “Why is it that I, as a Christian, am so convinced of evolution?” I will now address this question.

There is no doubt that the theory of evolution is counter intuitive. Seeing the complexity of life around us and the many intricate details contained within that life, one is forced to attribute creation to a grand designer, the prosecution made excellent points in this regard earlier. Copernicus’ writings were so revolutionary because they were so unexpected, they went against intuition. Ptolemy’s metaphor of the watchmaker resonates well inside most people convincing us that there is a creator. I don’t refute the idea of a creator; in fact I embrace that absolute truth. I simply question the mechanism by which many of us believe the creation came about. Things in our genome, the fossil record, and the age of the earth as measured using radioactive dating methods contradict Ptolemy’s theory of creation, and Copernicus’ theory is the best paradigm to explain some of these findings.

The first thing that is hard for people to understand is the extremely long periods of time evolution requires. The fact that we don’t see evolution firsthand makes evolution more difficult to accept. I believe the old age of the earth, and the creatures upon it, is irrefutable. Radioactive dating techniques have been able to predict the age of the earth to be much older than 10,000 years. Sure, radioactive dating may not be perfect, but is it really billions of years off target? To ignore the evidence carbon dating provides is not a luxury I have. As a scientist I must seriously consider all the evidence, and the evidence points towards a very old earth. I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.

Genes are of great interest in the world today. Since being sequenced in its entirety, the human genome has started to unlock a great many mysteries in regards to our species. Population geneticists have studied various facts about our genome, including only about a 0.1% genetic variation within our species, and concluded that our species has been on the earth for 100,000 years, and originated from a group of about 10,000 individuals. The fossil record supports these conclusions and places the origin of our species in East Africa. Another thing we have found is that if you take our genetic sequence and compare it to those of other species, you can find many similarities and overlaps we call syntenic blocks. Syntenic blocks are large segments of DNA with similar DNA sequences and genes in the same positions when two or more genomes are compared. The presence of syntenic blocks of genes in the human and mouse genomes, for example, is evidence of common ancestry of humans and mice. This evidence implies that genomes have evolved via rearrangements of large chromosomal segments, which are detected as syntenic blocks. Other genetic similarities between species are worth noting. When comparing the Human and the Chimpanzee chromosomes, we discover that human chromosome 2 matches two chimpanzee chromosomes. The centromere, a constriction site where two DNA molecules are attached, in the human chromosome 2 and in the corresponding chimpanzee chromosomes are at the same position in both species and serve their function as centromeres. To sum this up, the similarity between human chromosome 2 and the two chimpanzee chromosomes points to a fusion in a common ancestor of the chromosomes seen in the chimp. The fused version of the genes shows up in modern day humans, while the non-fused two chromosome set remains in many of the great apes. Comparing genetic similarities between species, geneticists have constructed phylogenetic trees showing how interrelated each species is. The branches of these trees show common ancestry and are completely supported by fossil evidence and comparative anatomy. This provides wonderful evidence for Copernicus’ theory of evolution by means of small genetic changes over time via natural selection.

Some people would argue, and convincingly too, that similarities in genetics between species are not evidence of common ancestry but of a common creator. That once God got things right, he used similar genes in all His creations. This argument is easily dismissed using more evidence from genes. Our genome contains many AREs or ancient repetitive elements. These arise from “jumping genes” we call transposons. These genes are mobile, capable or copying themselves and inserting themselves all over the genome. Mammalian genomes are littered with AREs. When the mouse and human genomes parts are lined up, one will usually see that the AREs are in the same places as well. This is especially interesting when these trends continue in our junk DNA. People may argue that what we call junk DNA is really just the result of our lack of understanding, that when our science progresses we will discover that these sequences have use and the similarities observed are attributed to the same creator using a similar blueprint for all his creations. Sure, this explanation can be satisfactory when genes have clear and obvious function, but what about when the process of transposition damages the gene? There are AREs in our genome, and the mouse’s, that were truncated when they landed, left with no opportunity to function. Such defective AREs can be seen in parallel positions on the mouse and human gene as well. Now unless one holds to an idea of a God who puts things in front of us to trick or mislead us, then these defective parallel AREs should provide the evidence and understanding needed to accept the genetic evidence for common ancestry.

It has been mentioned, by my prosecutor, that there is a distinction between micro and macro evolution. This distinction has been seen over the years to be artificial. An example that illustrates this point is seen by the study of stickleback fish. A group at Stanford University has noted that the drastic difference between freshwater stickleback fish and salt water stickleback fish is attributed to mutations in the EDA gene. The EDA gene gives the salt water stickle back fish their armor plates, while mutations in the freshwater fish get rid of these plates, which are unnecessary where predators are fewer. Humans also have the EDA gene, and mutations in that gene can cause abnormal hair, teeth, bone, and sweat gland development. It is not difficult to see how differences between stickleback fish could be extended to explain to great number of differences between other species. Small incremental changes explain both micro and macro evolution, or simply evolution.

A criticism many Christians have about evolution is the holes in the fossil record. This complaint doesn’t seem to me to be an honest scientific inquiry, but rather an attempt to give evolution the appearance of uncertainty, and quench church members’ deep fear of it. This said, it is also a legitimate concern. I think honest inquirers should realize that fossilization is a rare and complicated process. Of all the organisms that live, an extremely small portion will have fossilized remains. This, in addition to the fact that we still have only uncovered a small fraction of the fossils on the earth, explains why there are holes in the fossil record. But, this doesn’t mean that transitional states, predicated by phylogenetic trees and evolutionary processes, don’t exist. There have been quite a few such examples supporting evolution. A great example is the modern day horse. Here is a chart showing the horses evolution with fossil remains.


(Galileo holds up the above poster).

The horse can be traced back to an animal the size of a dog, the dawn horse shown above, which lived fifty million years ago. The dawn horse has several toes on each foot and teeth appropriate for eating tender shoots, twigs and leaves of trees or shrubs. The modern horse is much larger, has one toed feet, and teeth appropriate for eating growing herbage. Many transitional forms between these two species, as well as tangential forms including some which don’t exist at present time due to extinction, are preserved in the fossil record. There are plenty of other examples in the fossil record of transitional creatures.

I think it is interesting to note that the modern skeletons of creatures such a turtles, whales, birds, humans, bats, and horses are strikingly similar. Surely a creator would use vastly different engineering for dramatically different functions. More evidence easily described by evolution.

I have described at length these evidences for evolution to give reason for a scientist to think evolution is how man came to be. The scientific evidence is robust. How anybody thinks they can dismiss it without sacrificing their academic integrity baffles me.

Do the ideas contained within the theory of evolution really conflict with Christian doctrine? The idea of an old earth is accused of being in contradiction with the biblical account of creation. The creation process is divided into seven days, the sun not being created until the third day. Is the account of Genesis to be taken as literal twenty-four hour days, or is this an allegorical account of something that is beyond the scope of Genesis’ purpose? Is the purpose of Genesis to explain the mechanisms of creation or to explain man’s relationship with God? I obviously argue towards the latter. The Hebrew word for day is 'yom.' Yom can be used in various ways, in the bible it is used for a twenty-four hour day, a day in age such as “in Adam’s day,” and for other time periods. Another question is: what is time to God? In 2 Peter 3:8 it says “with the Lord the day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day.” God is not bound by time. Einstein taught us that time itself is not constant, but relative to one’s reference frame. So what can we conclude in regards to the biblical statement of the age of the earth? I don’t think we can conclude anything definitively, leaving open the option that the earth is very old, old enough to sustain the evolutionary processes.

For evolution to have occurred there must have been death before the fall. One of the great complaints against this notion is that Christian tradition teaches that there wasn’t death before the Fall. But what do the scriptures really say? I can’t find any place where the Bible says there was no physical death before the Fall. Not only that, the scriptures themselves seem to indicate that there was death before the Fall. For example, where did Cain’s wife come from? She seems to have existed outside of Eden in Nod, mentioned only after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. If she existed independent of God’s creation of Adam then maybe Adam wasn’t the first man, and maybe there was death before the Fall. Some say Cain’s wife was a descendent of Adam as well, but this doesn’t seem feasible either, since there is a strict moral code prohibiting incest in the bible, and this interpretation doesn’t fit with a straightforward reading of the text either. I contest that Adam and Eve don’t necessarily represent a single act of miraculous creation, but perhaps a significant couple in Earth’s history. Perhaps they were the first human beings to receive their spirits and thereby the first capable of death, the definition of death here being a separation of body and spirit. This could be where mankind developed the moral law, which is a mysterious characteristic in human experience. Maybe the first few chapters really are allegorical, not to be taken so literally. Again, is the intent of Genesis to explain creation, or is it to represent our relationship with our creator? Most people would argue in favor of the latter.

People are drawn to the ideas of Ptolemy because of tradition, and in a lot of cases, because they fear the alternative. These people consider evolution to be an atheistic or agnostic idea, meant to disprove God. Is this really the case? Copernicus himself was a devout Christian, only losing his faith after the death of a loved one. With all the evidence I have provided in regard to the age of the earth, our DNA, and the fossil record, would God wish us to just ignore these facts and believe blindly? Does this action honor our Heavenly Father, the greatest biologist, chemist, physicist, and scientist of them all? God is the author of the laws of the universe. Is he honored or dishonored by people who arrogantly ignore the rigorously determined science of this earth?

Church member’s strict adherence to their absurdly literal interpretations of the bible are not just harming their scientific understanding, they are harming their own faith. In order to reconcile all the scientific evidences I have described here today, some believers will say that god put certain things here on earth to test our faith. Such a conclusion is absurd, this trickster god is not the god of understanding the Bible talks about, he is not a god worthy of our devotion and worship. We need to stop believing in a God of the gaps, forcing him to fill the voids of any realm of uncertainty. This method is destined to blow up in our faces since eventually scientific discoveries will be made which may then conflict with what we decided god’s words to mean. Augustine stated that “if it happens that the authority of sacred scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets scripture does not understand it correctly.” How many pits are we going to dig for ourselves before we will start to accept that every Christian tradition is not unquestionably true? We learned this hundreds of years ago when heliocentrism was considered to be atheistic. We are now doing the same thing to evolution. I will have no part in this witch hunt.

(loud chatter erupts in the court)

Pope: Order, Order!

This court will be adjourned and a decision on the matter will be given tomorrow morning. You are dismissed.

Verdict:

After reviewing the evidence against Galileo we find him guilty of an infraction against the statement issued by the church on evolution. This trial has given the church the opportunity to discuss the points made by Galileo. He contends that evolution is not in contention with a belief in God. My predecessor, Pope John Paul II said that “new scientific knowledge has led us to realize that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought for nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.” Moreover the Lutheran World Federation has stated that “evolution’s assumptions are as much around us as the air we breathe and no more escapable. At the same time theology’s affirmations are being made as responsible as ever. In this sense, both science and religion are here to stay, and… need to remain in a healthful tension of respect one towards another.” Looking back in history, the church readily admits to mistakes in fighting scientific theories such as heliocentrism. Is today’s debate going to go down in the history books as a similar mistake?

In order to help our church members embrace good science, as well as good faith, we need to support science as well as its theories. Whether or not evolution is true I cannot say, I believe God is the only one who knows for sure. What I can say is that Galileo has every right as a scientist and as a catholic to teach good science. We will not stand in his or any other honest person’s search for truth. We hereby officially retract the church’s previous position in regards to evolution set forth in The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory, and from this day forward allow the teaching, defending, and writing of evolutionary theory in any church sponsored institution. This may be erroneously taken to mean that the church supports the theory. The church has no stance on the matter, let God teach us the mechanisms of creation when the time comes, for now the church’s focus is to teach the principles of salvation.

This court is adjourned.

Significant Characters:

Galileo: a fictional expert geneticist and a catholic of high church standing. Inspired by Francis S. Collins.

Copernicus: Charles Darwin

Ptolemy: William Paley

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Preventive Medicine


In the past, I have mentioned that one of the keys to fixing our healthcare system, and more importantly improve people's quality of life, is preventive medicine. I thought it might be good to share what preventive medicine means to me.


As an exercise science major I have studied extensively physical activity's profound impact on our overall health. In fact, increasing physical activity has a greater impact on overall health than any other lifestyle change. All-cause mortality is decreased by increasing physical fitness alone. This is a part of preventive medicine, but it doesn't stop there. Allow me to illustrate using a hypothetical example.

Let's say somebody has numerous gallstones which block the gallbladder and cause immense pain. This pain would lead that person to the doctor's office. The doctor assesses the situation and decides it would be best to surgically remove the gallbladder. This treatment alleviates the pain and the patient goes home happy right? Wrong. This type of medicine neglects the underlying lifestyle which caused the problem in the first place. Let's say that a major reason the gallstones formed was due to obesity. Obesity reduces the amount of bile salts in bile, thereby increasing the cholesterol content. Obesity also decreases gallbladder emptying. Now, the cause of the obesity is the person's high levels of stress, caused by their huge workload, lack of time to exercise, etc. Taking out the gallbladder still leaves the root cause untreated.

Another example is the man who comes into the emergency room with a broken arm. The doctor sets the arm in a cast and the arm heals perfectly. The patient is healed right? Well it turns out that the man has a drinking problem, he broke his arm because he was drunk and fell from his buddy's balcony. He comes into the ER a few months later with another drinking related injury.

Dr. Dan Schmidt shared another great story in one of my previous posts.

Essentially, a specialty doctor quick fixes many people's injuries, but too often the root causes go untreated. I don't really think a universal health care plan will fix this problem. How will free quick fixes give any more incentive for people to make lifestyle choices that will keep them out of the doctor's office to begin with? Preventive medicine helps people make these choices, choices such as controlling their diabetes, their weight, or their nutritional habits.

General practitioners are essential to providing this type of care. GPs see people over long periods of time. They are familiar with a patient's lifestyle and are able to better provide holistic care.

One of the things we need is more incentive for GPs to enter the medical field. Unfortunately, in the U. S., GPs make up only 13% of physicians available to help people. The U. S. is in dire need of this trend to change.

GPs make far less money than specialists and their work environment is far from ideal. Why would I choose primary care when I'll spend twenty years paying off student loans which are pretty much irrelevant to a specialist?

Obama has mentioned that he will help with primary care physicians' student loans. That would be great. Only with more primary care physicians can we really start treating the whole person, practice preventive medicine, and come up with a realistic health care system that is sustainable.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Altruism

Altruism is self-sacrifice which individuals perform for a cause greater than themselves. These actions often are done despite great personal risk. As such, altruism is a characteristic of much intrigue in science, since at face value it seems to be inconsistent with natural selection. From an evolutionary stand point, one could predict that such altruistic traits would be selected against. Oddly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Something must reinforce this type of behavior. I believe the driving force behind altruism is to better the world around you. A prime example of altruism is seen in the life of George Frideric Handel. The work defining Handel’s life was Messiah, his most famous piece, yet, Handel didn’t accept a cent of payment for his masterpiece. He donated everything to an orphanage. Interestingly, altruistic acts are not seen to be inconvenient, but a responsibility one shares with the world around them. Perhaps evolution’s hand is at play then, since helpful service would increase the fitness of a species overall.


In my own life I have found great satisfaction in giving of myself to others in need. I did so in a dramatic fashion serving a full-time two year mission for my church. That instilled within me a spirit of charitable service. Later I discovered what that meant in real life. As an undergraduate preparing for medical school, it is easy to fill you time with self-serving activities. These selfish acts can be draining. It is important to have an avenue with which you can escape your own interests and focus on helping others. For the past eight months I have tutored Gerardo, a Mexican gentleman in his late thirties. Meeting twice a week for a couple hours, Gerardo and I study English reading and writing. I have been impressed with Gerardo’s desire to succeed and provide a better living for his wife and children. He recognizes the need to read and write proficiently in English as a tool to better succeed in America. His drive to learn has pushed me to teach him the best that I can. Since the time that we started meeting he has progressed immensely. Being part of this man’s life has been rewarding to me and I enjoy our visits each week. By helping Gerardo realize his own dreams, I find myself more motivated to work towards my own. As one so often finds, my attempt to serve selflessly has ironically given my own life more joy and meaning.


While my desire to serve others comes from my Christian upbringing, I am quite confident that altruism is a consistent personality trait seen across the board. The English poet John Donne observed that “no man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Mankind is connected. One person's actions has an influence on others. This profound insight is telling of man’s desire to help one another. Within each of us is contained an acknowledgment that life is bigger than just one person. In order for society to function properly we must fulfill our responsibilities one to another.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Save



Dan J. Schmidt

I started medical school thinking I wanted to be a family doctor--someone who could work in a small town and deal with whatever walked through the door. But in our third year, when we received our first taste of clinical medicine, I found my surgery and ER rotations exciting. I was at our state's major trauma center, and I loved it. Fixing things gives me a thrill--and the power to save a life is even more alluring.

Each "save" felt like a miraculous triumph. Take the nineteen-year-old visiting Australian, stabbed in a random street altercation, his blood pressure dropping as fluid accumulated around his heart. Right there in the ER, he had his chest split open and his right ventricle patched by the very cool chief surgery resident.

But after several weeks of 5 a.m. surgery rounds and every-third-night call, I started to feel a nagging sense of unmet need, both my own and the patients'. To me, it seemed that the specialized care we were giving was excellent but fractured: No one was responsible for the whole person.

It was 8 a.m. during my third week of the rotation. The third-year resident had led us medical students through our rounds, and there'd been time for some drug-rep doughnuts before we headed down to the ER. At the nursing station, we joined those who'd been on call the previous night and were sharing their war stories.

"You shoulda seen what we just got!" said one of the students.

A twenty-something guy had come in with a near-amputation. "He cut off his arm with a Skilsaw!" (the powerful circular saw used by professional carpenters and builders). "He's down in the OR now. Orthopedic surgery thinks they can reattach it."

After the descriptions of the bones, the x-rays, the blood loss, I asked one student, "Which arm?"

She frowned. She didn't know. I looked at the x-rays. It was the right.

I caught the gaze of a third-year surgery resident and asked, "Do you know how hard it is to run a Skilsaw left-handed?" (It's a lot harder than scissors. I knew: I'd spent a year building condos before I'd entered medical school.)

The resident nodded. This injury was no accident.

That evening I heard the orthopedic surgery team talking about how happy they were with their neurovascular and bone-plating work. It looked like the patient's hand would be saved. But they were aware of his psychiatric risks: He was being kept in restraints until they could get a "full psych eval."

The guy was in the post-operative ward; when I'd gone around to check on my patients, I'd seen him. Straight black hair. Intense gaze. Cold affect. Girlfriend sitting at the bedside, then leaving in tears.

The next morning, the psych team came by to evaluate him. They started him on an antidepressant, but thought that he was no risk to himself.

Coming back from lunch that afternoon, I heard stat pages overhead, calling the chief ortho resident to a "thrash" on the post-op ward. Hurrying down the hall, I saw a bed barreling towards me, pushed by three residents. A nurse knelt on top of the patient and his bloody sheets, pressing her hands hard against his arm as they steered the bed into the elevator.

"What happened?" I asked the senior resident.

"He pulled it off! All that work, and he just pulled it off!" he raged.

Before the elevator doors closed, I heard him say, "Damn if we're putting this back on again! He'll get what he wants!"

And off they went, back down to the OR.

I went to his room. There were fine blood spatters everywhere, and a big, dripping arc across the far wall. The Filipina housekeeper quietly mopped the burgundy-stained floor, shaking her head.

A technological success. A medical catastrophe.

We had treated this man's injury, reattached his limb, evaluated his psyche--but not one of us had tried to care for the whole human being. It seemed that our academic and specialized-care system had accomplished a wondrous feat of technological prowess, but didn't foster a focus that could actually heal the patient.

Standing amid the gory mess left by a man I didn't know--a man who seemingly wanted not to be whole--I realized that I wanted to treat the whole person.

So I decided to stick with family medicine and left trauma and surgery behind.

A save still thrills me, although in family medicine they are thankfully rare. I get to keep my eye on the big picture. And I'm rewarded by a constant stream of quieter saves--the type 2 diabetic patient who loses fifty pounds, the alcoholic who's been dry for a couple of years now, the young single mother who's learning to raise her infant well.

These triumphs, bloodless but still lifesaving, keep me going.


About the author:

After seventeen years of practicing full-spectrum family medicine, Dan Schmidt now covers small-town practices on the weekends. Married, and with four grown daughters, he also fixes old cars and remodels houses--yes, sometimes using a Skilsaw. "I find that writing eases my need for reflection." This is the first of Dan's stories to appear outside of his Web site.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Obama's Health Care (my optimistic skepticism)

I haven't blogged in quite a while. The time I usually spend blogging has been displaced recently by some really great books (see my updated book list to the right).

An issue on my mind these past few weeks, which I feel affects everyone (especially people in the health care professions), is health care.

Now, I don't claim to be an expert on public health, so keep in mind my thoughts are still being developed (in other words correct me on things you don't agree with). That is the main reason I blog, to develop my thoughts and build stronger opinions.

Obama says his new plan will cost one trillion dollars over the next ten years. He presents a plan as to how he will pay for it. I think this is all well thought out, and I was impressed by many of the ideas he presented. My first point of skepticism is that Obama seems to avoid explicitly stating that doctors will personally pay for a great deal of the new plan. How will this affect our health care system? Many know that to become a doctor takes way more work than it is worth (money wise), should we reduce this already meager motivating factor for quality people to pursue a career in medicine? I don't know.

Second, I think the unspoken truth behind Obama's plan is that having a public plan will create a monopoly, effectively getting rid of private insurers. How can a private insurance company, which complies to the rules and regulations the government puts on it, compete with a government option which makes its own rules? Again, I don't know.

That all said, I love that Obama recognizes the need for more primary care physicians. These are the physicians that get deep into debt in medical school and have trouble getting out. These are also the most important doctors when it comes to preventive medicine, in my opinion one of the most important keys to solving many of our health care problems.

I am glad Obama is aware of Gawande's article on health care. If you haven't read that yet, take some time to read it. I think the observations he made are crucial to understanding health care reform. Indeed his piece has changed the way I approach a solution.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Metaphor of Science and Religion

I would like to relay an interesting metaphor Francisco J. Ayala uses in his book: Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion.

On April 28, 1937 Nazi airplanes under Franco's command bombed Guernica leaving 1,654 of it's 7,000 inhabitants dead. In response, the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso painted his famous Guernica, a huge painting (25'8" X 11'6").

"Suppose I list the coordinates of all images represented in the painting, their size, the pigments used, and the quality of the canvas. This information would be interesting, but it would hardly be satisfying if I completely omitted aesthetic considerations and failed to reflect the painting's meaning and purpose, the dramatic message of man's inhumanity to man conveyed by the outstretched figure of the mother pulling her killed baby, the bellowing human faces, the wounded horse, and the satanic image of the bull. The point is that the physical description of the painting does not tell us anything (by itself it cannot tell us anything) about the aesthetic value or historical significance of Guernica; nor, on the other hand, do aesthetics or intended meaning determine the physical features of the painting."

"scientific knowledge, like the description of the size, materials, and geometry of Guernica, is satisfying and useful, but once science has had its say, there remains much about reality that is of interest: questions of value, meaning, and purpose that are forever beyond science's scope." (Ayala pp. 162-163)

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kobe: Doin' Work

I just watched the Kobe doc made by Spike Lee. Essentially, it's a game recorded from beginning to end focusing on Kobe Bryant. I enjoyed it and thought it gave great insight into the life of Kobe and preparation NBA players go through. Despite Kobe's past (rape charge) he is able to portray a strong family image. Whether he's a good dad or not I can't know for sure, but I think he is. Also I never knew Sasha spoke Italian too. How cool is it that Kobe jokes around with him and Pau in Italian on the bench.

Anyway check out the doc if you have time, I watched it on youtube since I was camping Saturday when it aired on ESPN.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Faith

Here's a thought for the day:

There is depth to faith in God that unbelievers will never understand.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Our New Dog


He's still in Thailand with Melanie's parents, but they'll either bring him to us when we graduate in August or we'll bring him back with us when we go to Thailand for Christmas.

Leia Mais…

Friday, April 17, 2009

Science vs. Religion?

It seems that quite a few people have subscribed to the conflict thesis of religion and science. The conflict thesis indicates that the two cannot co-exist. If one gains ground then this must somehow take away from the other.

This view frustrates me. Sure, religion and science differ somewhat in their approaches and differ substantially in their evidences, but can’t there be good taken from both? Why not let them mold together? Reconcile the good on both sides and paint a beautifully detailed and dynamic picture of the world. I can attest that the congruity of science and religion can be very satisfying.

Any good scientist will readily admit that there are limits to our observational ability. Consequently, our understanding is incomplete. It seems presumptuous to say religion must not be true, or that it must prove itself. On the other side, it is incredibly naïve for Christians to blindly refuse scientific data to help explain such things as the origin of life.

Science cannot be cornered, restricted to the boundaries of religious allowance.

It is unscientific to expect things in nature based on religious predispositions. This results in contrived results and retards objectivity. On the other hand, erroneous theories are not unique to the religious. Plenty of inaccurate observations have been made absent of any biblical influence.

Fortunately, a God-loving scientist is still far from an anomaly. In fact many Christians embrace scientific truths (and vice-versa), experiencing the same sense of discovery and cognitive liberation from revelations based on empirical data as they do from revelations on spiritual things.

"Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavor, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule."
-Gary Ferngren, Science & Religion, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Melanie and I watched this together. I absolutely loved E. Holland's talk and this video complements his words nicely.


and we read this:

Link

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Friday, April 10, 2009

I'm on a Boat-Clean

I love this video



For more click here

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Obesity

At least one billion people worldwide are overweight (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m2) and at least 300 million are obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2). Obesity is a plaque of developed countries, a direct consequence of increases in energy intake and decreases in energy output. Unfortunately obesity has great consequence to the health of a nation, being linked to numerous chronic diseases. In a study of the western hemisphere, especially Brazil, Mexico, Canada and the United States it was found that the United states had the highest rates of obesity, but the other countries were not far behind. Data also indicates that obesity is increasing every year as underdeveloped countries adopt Western lifestyle habits. As mentioned above the easiest explanation of the cause of obesity is an increased energy intake and decreased energy expenditure, there are however more causes. These stem from familial, social, societal, cultural, governmental, and environmental factors. Because the different causes vary from country to country, making a plan of action to reverse this epidemic can be problematic. A specialized plan should be tailored for each country. Obesity, being preventable in most cases, represents one of the most costly consequences of people’s neglect for preventative medicine. Guidelines for a healthy lifestyle used to promote exercise to be physically fit, a shift has occurred recently to do physical activity to become healthy. The weekly recommendation includes 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity 5 days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous physical activity 3 days a week. In addition to one of these options people should do strength training 2 days a week. Increasing physical activity has a greater impact on overall health than any other lifestyle change. All-cause mortality is decreased by increasing physical fitness. With all these things in mind, Americans need to get off their lazy butts and become physically active. Governments need to encourage this as well.

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Doctors' Right of Conscience

The Bush administration put forth a ‘right of conscience’ rule recently (end of 2008) permitting health care professionals to refuse in any procedure they find morally objectionable (this could include abortion, artificial insemination, birth control, etc.). Doctors already had the right to refuse to do abortions by federal laws which have existed for more than thirty years, so what was the objective of the ‘right of conscience’ rule (what does it change)? First of all it covers a broader spectrum of personnel, from the surgeons right on down to the people who clean the instruments. It also allows professionals to not only refuse to do the procedure, but also to refuse giving advice or information to someone wanting the procedure. It's language also suggests that it may cover more than abortion. "The real battle line is the morning-after pill," Dr. David Stevens president of the Christian Medical Association (CMA) said. "This prevents the embryo from implanting. This involves moral complicity. Doctors should not be required to dispense a medication they have a moral objection to." He also stated that “the rule is not limited to abortion, it will protect doctors who do not wish to prescribe birth control or to provide artificial insemination.” Critics of the rule say that it is an attack on patient’s rights to receive proper medical care. Should patients sacrifice their medical care for the religious beliefs of their providers? We have a right to freedom of religion after all, but how far do those boundaries reach? "Although respect for conscience is important, conscientious refusals should be limited if they constitute an imposition of religious or moral beliefs on patients [or] negatively affect a patient's health," American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG)'s Committee on Ethics said. It also said physicians have a "duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request." Obama has already taken steps toward overturning the bill.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Euthanasia

Euthanasia is defined as the intentional termination of someone’s life by someone other than the person concerned, at the person’s request. Many people with in the advanced stages of illness will request a physician to help in a painless death. The difficulty in dealing with such requests is to ascertain what reason the request was made. Is it caused by psychological distress, or merely an insincere comment not meant to be interpreted literally as a death wish? Moral issues aside, let’s assume that euthanasia is legal, and the physician is required to respond to such death requests professionally. Discussing the topic of euthanasia with a patient is tricky, the consequences could be emotionally draining, unhelpful to hopefulness, or psychologically harmful to the patient. Another issue is the preparedness of doctors or nurses to respond to desire to die statements (DTDS). That preparedness could include legal and professional knowledge and understanding, saying the right thing at the right time, etc. These fears can lead professionals to ignore DTDSs hindering the patient’s ability to express any psychosocial concerns, thinking that the physician won’t be able to help, or is unconcerned with his/her personal well-being. Another issue regarding DTDSs is that these desires can fluctuate over time. How does a physician gauge the sincerity of such a request? Research suggests that interactions that convey empathy for the patient’s distress and active listening assist psychological adjustment, that information and comprehensive understanding about what to expect in the future promotes psychological well-being, and an opportunity to discuss feelings with a health professional reduces psychosocial distress. In light of these findings, it is important that health care professionals be adequately trained in handling DTDSs and respond to them appropriately. As I said before, I have ignored whether or not physician assisted suicide is morally right or not, my focus is to point out what difficulties arise in responding to a DTDS and what research shows can help a patient in a palliative care setting.

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