There is a very sad story going on that involves a terminally ill one-year-old boy in a persistent vegetative state, whom doctors give no hope of recovery.  Worse still, little Joseph Maraachli's condition is deteriorating, and both the doctors and the family know that he will die.  At the time of this writing, he may have already died. There is no silver lining to this story.  It is altogether tragic, though that word seems barely able to fit.

The doctors were unable to obtain consent to remove Joseph's breathing tube (which was keeping his airway clear of mucus), so they are seeking consent from the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT)  Joseph's parents want to bring their son home to die in comfort, surrounded by loved ones, and not in a hospital.  But in order to safely bring Joseph home, he needs a tracheotomy performed.  As if this story couldn't be any sadder, Joseph's parents, Moe and Nadar Maraachli went through this before, eight years ago, as their daughter had the same condition Joseph has.  Then, the tracheotomy was performed, allowing their daughter to spend her last moments of life at home.

But doctors have concluded that a tracheotomy is too risky for Joseph, and would surely cause great discomfort, pain and infection, leading to a very painful, extended death.

  • If the doctors leave the breathing tube in, Joseph will deteriorate and slowly die as parts of his brain die off piece by piece.
  • If the doctors remove the breathing tube, the fluids in his body will fill into his lungs, and he will choke and die.
  • If the doctors perform the tracheotomy, Joseph will experience a great deal of pain, get an infection, and die painfully.

Like I said, this is a terrible, tragic story, and there is no silver lining.  Joseph will die, and there seems to be no way that this story could get any worse.  One would have to be a heartless cynic to use this story to further their own ideological goals.  What kind of despicable human would exploit the desperation of the parents of a dying child? And yet....

Oh no.  Not this again.
As if on cue, the Fox News propaganda machine jumped in and attempted to re-frame the story as another reason to fear 'Obamacare.'

They've used a Canadian story before in order to scare Americans from public health care.  In the Summer of 2009, there was a story of Shona Holmes, who was suffering from a brain cyst.  She was put on the waiting list to have the cyst removed, but was unable (or unwilling) to wait for the procedure. The type of brain cyst that Holmes had was definitely bad (causing temporary partial blindness and discomfort), but would have caused no permanent injury, and was not fatal.  Fox News declared that it was not a cyst, but a brain tumor, and told American audiences that our heartless Canadian socialized medicine was willing to let the brain tumor go unoperated because it's too expensive.  A lie that Holmes was only too happy to perpetuate.

Unlike the Holmes story, this story can have no happy ending.  There is no operation waiting, at great expense, for him at the Mayo Clinic. Still, the Fox News pundit, Megyn Kelly (shown here, talking about the "news") brought Joseph's father onto her show to get his story, and afterwards had a discussion about how the Canadian Courts intervened because of a 'cost issue.'

Obviously, the father's story seems heart-wrenchingly desperate.  All things considered, he is being remarkably brave and thick skinned as he is trying everything and anything he can to act in what he believes is in the best interests in his son and family.

However, in the segment after Joseph's father, Kelly spoke to two others, and it didn't take long for the discussion to go where Kelly was leading:

MEGYN KELLY: Dr. London, do you think that there is something going on here in terms of Canadian health care system, which pays -- you know, they pay for all of the medical care. Do you feel like that's playing any role here?

DR. KATHLEEN LONDON: I can't believe that it would, because again, a tracheostomy is such a simple procedure, and the parents are saying they are going to care for this child at home. So I'm not really sure how this could be a cost issue or anything else. And I'm actually quite confused and wondering what details are we missing, and is there something else?

KELLY: What do you make of it, Wendy?

WENDY MURPHY: Well, look, I think it absolutely is a cost issue because putting in the tracheotomy will allow the child to live longer which costs the hospital that daily cost care. Please --

LONDON: No. They're taking him home.

KELLY: But he could come back.

MURPHY: No, but I understand. But they also then have oversight responsibilities. Whether the child were -- have a tracheotomy and stayed in the hospital or go home, they still have oversight responsibilities, which costs money every single day that that child is alive.

This is what I'm worried about with Obamacare. You know, it's not quite likely to be that bad. We don't really have death panels as people have come to understand that term. But we are going to have government agencies and panels making decisions based on cost, and that's a lot closer to the Canadian model than we've ever seen in this country. So we should be worried. It won't get this bad, but it will come close. [Fox News, America Live, 2/22/11]

This is hardly an earth shattering revelation, but it's clear that the facts don't matter to Kelly and Fox News.  The story has nothing to do with the costs incurred by our health care system, but is about the rights of the parents, the rights of an infant in a persistent vegetative state, and the knowledge and expertise of the doctors involved.  This is a discussion worth having.

The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (which I'm assuming is the "Death Panel" Kelly and company is referring to) is a public protection safeguard designed to intervene when the best interests of a person are not protected.  It doesn't just intervene (on request) with cases that involves patients in a persistent vegetative state, but also in matters of estates, guardianship issues, and in making substitute health care decisions (such as intervening when a person gets in a car accident, and no known next of kin is able to be reached).  The OPGT exists for one sole purpose: to protect Canadians who aren't being protected for one reason or another.

This sad case of little Joseph may fall under their scope, and they may intervene.  Whatever their decision, it's not about the costs.  If they decide that the doctors should not remove the breathing tube, or perform the tracheotomy, they will be doing so out of protection of Joseph, not in consideration of the costs.  The OPGT is an office of the Attorney General, which makes is part of the Judical branch of government.  The scope of the judicial branch cannot, by constitutional convention, encompass decisions of financial costs of the health care system, which falls under the legislative and executive branches (Canada has a fusion of powers, not a separation of powers like the US does) of the Federal and Provincial governments. That's why the judicial system exists:  It protects the laws and rights of Canadians no matter what the elected bodies is outside the scope of popular opinion, because it has to be.

If any organization were to intervene due to costs (which isn't happening), it would be the one of these branches of government, NOT the court system.  Of course, if the legislative branch were to make a decision based on the costs, the OPGT would block the decision, because when it comes to individuals constitutional rights, rights trump costs. Any discussion of "death panels" or the supposed overburdened costs of Joseph's care crowds out the serious ethical and legal discussion that needs to be made.

Make no mistake, this issue is not about our socialized medicine, or the idiotic scare-mongering of death panels.  This is a case of the rights of the family to chose the manner of death for an infant in a persistent vegetative state.  I'm not weighing in on whose voice should take precedence: the family's or the doctors'. I'm not an involved party, and I think it irresponsible for anyone to question or condemn the parents or the doctors involved.  I have as much sympathy as I am able towards all involved party, and I hope that something, anything that is not terrible comes of this, but I'm not too hopeful. This story is bad all over.

This story is gut-wrenchingly sad enough as it is, and it doesn't need cynical politicking and scaremongering from Fox News to scare people away from socialized medicine.

Media Matters
The National Post
The Calgary Herald
CTV News

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Today, this silly little skeptic blog turns three.  It no longer uses a diaper, and I expect you all to buy it a tricycle.

Three years ago today, I launched this blog for three reasons:
1) There didn't seem to be a significant Canadian Skeptic community at the time (or I simply couldn't find much)

2) I read Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy, and wanted to get active.  Phil was one of the first commenters on this blog, and it was really flattering to my young-skeptic blog to read his support.

3) I wanted to learn how to be a better writer. I was a regular astronomy columnist for my university paper, and I felt it was time I branched out.

Over the course of the last year and a half, this blog has seen a lower content output than is perhaps ideal, mainly because I put much of my writing in Skeptic North.  However, this blog has seen a recent spike of content, my Infographics for Skeptics series, and I'll always think of this blog as my first home.

My one regret with this blog:  Blogger.  It's a fine platform to start a blog (especially if you're like me and know very little about web design), but once you want to expand, it is severely limiting.  I can switch to Wordpress now if I want, but when one switches platforms, one also loses internal links (when I link to my own blog entries).  If there can be an easy (and I do mean easy) porting tool that allows me to leave Blogger, I'll happily switch.  If Blogger upgrades their software to be more Wordpress-esque, I'll happily stay.  If nothing changes, I'll grudgingly stay.

Anyway, enough shameless self-congratulations.  Onwards, and upwards...and...outwards?  Whatever.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for following me on Twitter! ;)

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 Let's get this out of the way first: there is no credible, replicable body of scientific literature that supports the position that homeopathy is anything more than a placebo. Not only is there no measured effect, but there is also not an ounce of plausibility, given what we know about physics, chemistry, math, biology etc.

Yet, homeopaths and their supporters continue to cling onto anything they can come up with, in order to bolster their claims.  And ho boy, do they come up with some doozies!  On this chart below, I've compiled a small list of the claims that homeopaths put forth as the mechanism of action of homeopathy.  You can see some of them yourself here and here.  Some of these things can sound very intimidating.  However, Once you look into these claims yourself, you discover that they're complete bullshit.

In the end, it doesn't matter what the mechanism of homeopathy is.  Homeopaths claim that there is an effect, and when we put that effect to the test, homeopathy fails.  There is no effect, and it doesn't matter how you tart it uphomeopathy is junk.

Check back often for more Infographics for Skeptics!

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A Skeptic Scope

There are many issues that fall firmly into the camp of political activism, scientific skepticism, and humanism.  There are some chance intersections (but only insomuch as they are tangentially related), and other intersections where issues come clashing together head on.

Whether you fancy yourself a libertarian, an atheist, or a high school chemistry teacher, (or any combination thereof) it's important to remember the context in which you find yourself, and your current set of values and interests (which are, hopefully, always subject to change, pending new data).

Below are some issues that skeptics often find themselves dealing with in some manner, and a diagram showing where they are, and where they are not.  

Hint: Libertarianism is not the logical outcome of scientific skepticism, but that doesn't mean that a skeptic can't also be a libertarian.  It just means that said person should stop conflating the two.

Check back often for more of my sumteen-part series, Infographics for Skeptics.

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Who is afriad of 2012?

 This could just be my own confirmation bias, but I seem to be hearing less of the 2012 fear mongering lately, compared to how much I've heard in the past three years. Might be because the crappy 2012 movie has come and gone, or it might be that I don't have cable anymore.  But still, there are people who are afraid of 2012.  Question is: Who?

Check back tomorrow for another of my series, Infographics for Skeptics!

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Naturopathic products cover a staggeringly wide range of interventions ranging from ginseng to homeopathy. There is embarassingly little evidence that these interventions work, so why do people still take them?

 Check back soon for more Infographics for Skeptics!

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Want to sell some alt-med products?  I know how you can sell them!  You don't even need to show that they work, just say that they do, and Health Canada will approve just about anything!

Check back soon for more Infographics for Skeptics!

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A Skeptic's Landscape

There are plenty of intersections between what is popular, what is science, and what is hokum.  Here are just a few of those intersections that skeptics often find themselves discussing.

Check back soon, and often for more of my sumteen-part series, Infographics for Skeptics.

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I think I figured it out.

I made a few of these Infographics For Skeptics.  This is the first one, so check back soon for more!

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Today, I could have died.  I nearly joined the Choir Invisible and I might have been pushing up the daisies by now.

I speak of course, of my attempt to overdose on the homeopathic sleeping pill, "Calms Forte". These guys:

I'm not the only one who tried to do this.  Today, and yesterday, skeptics from around Canada and the world ingested huge amounts of homeopathic preparations (I am hesitant to call them 'remedies' since they don't remedy anything but boredom and a thick wallet) in an effort to 'overdose'.  Not all skeptics took the same thing that I took, but many did.  Most skeptics ingested whole bottles of some form of supposed sleep aid.

The always organized and effective Vancouver Skeptics (and CFI) had a great demonstration:

The logic is simple enough for even a homeopath to understand (and yet they never seem to): Homeopaths claim that their pills have an effect.  If so, taking them should show that effect.  Taking all of them should definitely show something.

Well, you're reading this, so I can assume that you've figured out I survived.  We all did.  Good for us.  No one fainted, got drowsy, and if we were technically qualified to, any one of us could have operated heavy machinery.

Pictured:  Our small, but spirited group.  Not pictured: dead people, tired people, stupid people.

Homeopaths hate it when people actually put their claims to the test.  They resort to ad hominem attacks, and exclaim that an overdose can't possibly work because homeopathy just doesn't work that way (in that sense, we agree), because taking that huge number of pills still accounts for taking one single dose.  Well, if that's the case, then shouldn't patients of homeopathy take half a pill, or a millionth of a pill?  Aren't homeopaths grossly overcharging?  I'm all for consumer freedom, but this sounds like a 200 year old con-job!

Homeopaths are on the ropes in the UK, and taking some serious, well-deserved beatings.  In Canada, a skeptical eye is being turned on them too, and not just by skeptics, but by the mainstream media.  Homeopaths don't like this, and will encourage their supporters to deliberately obfuscate the issue and blind people with personal anecdotes and harassment. 

There is a high probability that homeopaths or their supporters will leave a comment below exclaiming, often (but not always) as a last resort, that I:
  1. a) Simply don't understand it.
  2. b) I need to read 21 papers that support their position.
  3. c) Until I've read these 21 (or more) "scientific studies", I'm not qualified to be talking like this.
  4. d) I am speaking out of my simple minded, music teacher ass (Bryce Wylde once derisively called me "Music Man" and in the next breath said that I was stewing in bitterness.)
They will also call us communists in the pocket of their favourite enemy (after skeptics), "Big Pharma:"
The skeptical movement is an offshoot of the Communist Party. (Really: see the top two links below.) Its top organizers were hired by pharmaceutical company and medical industry representatives to recruit malcontents in bars to spread hate propaganda against non-conventional medical systems. One of the first such skeptic groups referred to itself as “Skeptics in the Pub”. Not surprisingly, their rants against Homeopathy sound like the drunken cacophony of soccer hooligans."
The above quote was pulled from a new pro-homeopathy website owned by Kitchener-area homeopath Tracy Poizner. (To me, it sounds like "poisoner").  Communists Party offshoot. Drunks. Hired by pharmaceutical company and medical industry reps to recruit malcontents in bars.

To Tracy Poizner:  You provide no evidence of these claims, and make no mistake: this is slander, libel, and deliberate character defamation on your part.  If you cannot provide evidence, I suggest you remove this, before some skeptics with a skin as thin as yours decide to take legal action against you.  Your tactic is despicably cowardly, as we already know what McCarthyism did to a culture.

It's now been 9 hours since I took 50 homeopathic sleeping pills.  It's just past 10:00 pm as I write this, and I've been up all day.  I just yawned.  Homeopaths: don't claim this as a yawn in your favour.  I'm just bored writing about you.

Because it's not homeopathic.  It's homeopathetic.

And no, I don't think that's very clever of me.

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