(New York Times) – In Owen’s chronicle of these cases, “Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death,” he describes what happened next. In an initial examination Jeff indeed seemed dead to the world, failing to respond to simple commands to look in the mirror or stick out your tongue. When an object was moved in front of his face, he was barely able to track it with his eyes. But when Jeff was put into a scanner — an fMRI machine (for functional magnetic resonance imaging) — and shown a short Alfred Hitchcock film, “Bang! You’re Dead,” parts of his brain lit up.
(Medical Xpress) – A type of mouse widely used to assess how the human immune system responds to transplanted stem cells does not reflect what is likely to occur in patients, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The researchers urge further optimization of this animal model before making decisions about whether and when to begin wide-scale stem cell transplants in humans.
(Kaiser Health News) – Hospices have largely been exempt from the national crackdown on opioid prescriptions because dying people may need high doses of opioids. But as the nation’s opioid epidemic continues, some experts say hospices aren’t doing enough to identify families and staff who might be stealing pills. And now, amid urgent cries for action over rising overdose deaths, several states have passed laws giving hospice staff the power to destroy leftover pills after patients die.
(Washington Post) – Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has said that artificial intelligence is more of a risk to the world than is North Korea, offering humanity a stark warning about the perilous rise of autonomous machines. Now the tech billionaire has joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence experts calling on the United Nations to ban one of the deadliest forms of such machines: autonomous weapons.
(Los Angeles Times) – Some doctors in California felt uncomfortable last year when a new law began allowing terminally ill patients to request lethal medicines, saying their careers had been dedicated to saving lives, not ending them. Many healthcare systems designed protocols for screening people who say they’re interested in physician-assisted death, including some that were meant to dissuade patients from taking up the option. But physicians across the state say the conversations that health workers are having with patients are leading to patients’ fears and needs around dying being addressed better than ever before. They say the law has improved medical care for sick patients, even those who don’t take advantage of it.
(The Guardian) – NHS doctors working in prisons have warned that the conditions in which they operate are so unsafe that the services would be closed down had they been outside the prison system, the Guardian has learned. The warnings have been issued in emails from an internal prison doctors’ email group seen by the Guardian. The fears about failures in prison healthcare come at a time when prisons are under huge pressure as a result of violence, overcrowding, drug use and high suicide rates.
(Sydney Morning Herald) – “To date, we have failed to move effectively from the general principles of treating clinical depression, to much more personalised and targeted approaches that minimise risk to maximise benefit.” Genetics is the key to fixing this problem, Professor Martin said. The geneticist is urging more Australians living with the mental illness to enrol in the study that requires a total of 20,000 Australian study volunteers aged 18 and over.
(USA Today) – The southern Oregon case underscores the complexity surrounding the use of advance directives for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Advance directives are legal documents that spell out a person’s end-of-life wishes if they are unable to make their own decisions. These directives generally allow named agents the power to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition in the form of feeding tubes, for instance. But when that same nourishment is offered by hand, several states, including Oregon, draw a line, said Thaddeus Mason Pope, director of the Health Law Institute at Hamline University in St. Paul, and an expert on end-of-life law.
(Quartz) – Here’s the interesting thing: Down syndrome, or Trisomy 21 as it is also called, is actually one of the less severe chromosomal conditions. Unlike many other trisomies (genetic conditions in which a person has three copies of a chromosome instead of the standard two), it’s compatible with life.
(Med Page Today) – For the first time, Medicare officials Wednesday posted quality scores for some 3,800 hospice providers on its new website, Hospice Compare, aimed at helping people select hospice facilities for themselves or others. In a press briefing Wednesday, Kate Goodrich of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said the effort will provide a “snapshot on the quality of care delivered by each provider” that will “help consumers make informed decisions.” Scores for the vast majority of hospices were near the top end of the quality range — so good, in fact, that some observers questioned whether consumers will find the data useful for comparison shopping.
(Undark Magazine) – The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics prohibits advertising that is “misleading” or creates “unjustified medical expectations,” and it requires claims to be “factually supportable.” The Brain Health Quiz, as I discovered, is almost guaranteed to generate a 100 percent hit rate, even for people without any of the objective risk factors. It purports to be making individualized assessments through meaningful screening, but it ends up pushing consultations for nearly everyone. After all, why take the quiz if you aren’t already concerned?
(STAT News) – The only existing tuberculosis vaccine — known as Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) — contains a weakened bacterium that is a different cousin of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. And while the vaccine is 60 to 80 percent effective in children, it works poorly in adults. Partly for that reason, while BCG is widely administered in many parts of the world, it’s not used in the United States. Multiple other vaccine candidates are currently moving through clinical trials, with some encouraging early results. A better vaccine could save lives on a stunning scale. Annually, tuberculosis kills more people than HIV or malaria, though the number of deaths has fallen over time.
(Quartz) – Marjorie Prime uses emerging technology as a window into our desire to self-select the past. Directed and co-written by Michael Almereyda and based on a play by Jordan Harrison, the movie’s focus is on a timeless question that has gnawed at us for generations: What does it mean to be human? Walter’s Prime may be a version of a hologram, but it acts more like a mirror, reflecting Marjorie’s life back at her.