The U.S. press is buzzing about an Italian woman who was forced to undergo a Cesarean section while she was hospitalized for a mental breakdown in the United Kingdom. The child was placed in foster care after the local social service agency determined that she was too sick to return to Italy with her baby. In February, a judge decided that the child should be put up for adoption.
This sad case raises a number of ethical and legal issues, and shoddy journalism has muddied all of them. Last week, The Telegraph broke the news under the sensational headline, 'Operate on this mother so that we can take her baby." The headline was set off with quotation marks, giving the misleading impression that anyone (besides the editors of the Telegraph) said anything of the kind.
The Telegraph reporter, Christopher Booker, claimed that the woman was hospitalized after she suffered "something of a panic attack" on a business trip to London, which makes her affliction sound like the psychiatric equivalent of the sniffles. In fact, the woman was committed under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act, a process reserved for very sick patients. Two doctors would have had to certify that her mental illness was so severe that she had to be hospitalized to protect herself or others. The woman’s name is being withheld to protect her privacy. In fact, very few details been made public about the woman’s medical history or the evidence presented to the courts regarding her fitness to parent.
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This week, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a pair of cases challenging large employers’ obligation to provide comprehensive health insurance for their employees, including birth control. The owners of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp insist that Obamacare violates their companies’ religious freedom by requiring them to pay part of the cost of minimally acceptable insurance for their workers. Why? Because, according to Hobby Lobby’s lawyers, the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B causes abortions, which a devout corporation (?!) like Hobby Lobby shouldn’t have to pay for.
Hobby Lobby’s owners aren’t arguing that birth control violates their faith per se, they’re just nursing a crackpot theory that certain forms of birth control cause abortions.
We’re all entitled to our own religious beliefs, but we’re not entitled to our own set of facts. Someone should have taken Hobby Lobby aside a long time ago and said, “Relax, these forms of birth control don’t cause abortions. Go back to selling silk flowers and glue guns, secure in the knowledge that you are not underwriting any form of abortion.” Don’t they have lower courts for that?
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By now, you may have heard that women who took birth control pills for at least three years were twice as likely to develop glaucoma later in life. The germ of this story was a press release by the American Academy of Ophthalmology touting a paper that was presented this week at the Academy’s annual meeting in New Orleans. The study made headlines on ABC News, TIME, CNN and other major outlets. Mainstream outlets ran with headlines like, “Long-Term Pill Use May Double Glaucoma Risk.” The headlines got more sensational as the news diffused outwards to less prestigious outlets. The SheKnows blog ran with the headline, “Could Birth Control Make You Go Blind?”
As Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux explains in The American Prospect, the significance of this study has been wildly overblown. No single study ever settles a scientific question. You always have to look at how a study fits with the evidence as a whole. So far, other studies have not found a a strong link between birth control pills and glaucoma.
Remember that a press release represents the puffery of the salesperson, even when the source is a respected medical society. The AAO wants to make this research sound as newsworthy as possible, so the press release stresses the doubling of the risk, and the burden of glaucoma (60 million sufferers worldwide, a major cause of blindness). It’s the reporter’s responsibility to ask the tough questions that might make the study seem less newsworthy. Unfortunately, in this case, the media set aside the tough questions and played along.
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Last week, Brown students shouted down outgoing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to oppose the racist stop-and-frisk policing that defined Kelly’s term in office. Since the university would not cancel Kelly’s talk, despite a student petition urging the school to disinvite him, the activists “decided to cancel it for them," according to organizer Jenny Li.
I was disappointed to hear about the shout-down, not because I have any sympathy for Kelly and his racist policing, but because I was dismayed to see such a dumb tactic used in an attempt to further the worthy cause of discrediting stop-and-frisk. College activists are perennially tempted to shout down campus speakers, and I’ve never seen it work.
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This morning, some Texas women with scheduled, legal abortions were told that their procedures could not take place because the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at hospitals with in 30 miles of their clinics. As many as 13 of 36 abortion clinics in Texas are unable to comply with the new law, and will have to stop performing abortions immediately. Researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project testified that the hospital privileges provision would block over 20,000 women from accessing abortion care.
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As far as I’m concerned, Breaking Bad ended in the wilds of To’hajilee, with Hank slipping the cuffs on Walt and Walt realizing that he had been beaten in a battle of wits with men he regarded as his inferiors. Walt’s humiliation is only matched by his horror as Hank is murdered by a force Walt set in motion but failed to control. The series should have ended there, with Walt suffering the full consequences of his actions.
The finale episode was great TV: brilliantly acted, well shot, and fun to watch, but it fell short of the moral vision that Vince Gilligan promised us. The ending felt like a sop to the Team Walt fanboys who tuned in each week to watch Heisenberg be a badass, morality be damned.
Sure, it felt good to watch Walt’s homemade machine gun turret mow down unsuspecting Nazis in Uncle Jack’s living room. But the final episode did not give us the moral clarity that Vince Gilligan had been promising. The last two episodes, “Ozymandias” and “Felina,” felt like rush jobs to rehabilitate Walt just enough so we could root for him as an avenging angel of justice.
Walter White got so much better than he deserved, including the death he’d wanted from the moment he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Walt wanted people to remember him as vital and powerful, not sick and diminished. He got his wish. When he realized he was fatally wounded, Walt went to die in the bikers’ lab, with a serene expression on his face and his trademark respirator by his side. His last act was to reach out and caress one of the gleaming tanks, literally leaving his fingerprints on the operation that he designed, as if to say, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Walt never cooked in the bikers’ lab, but his final gesture guaranteed that he would be remembered as Heisenberg, the man behind the blue meth
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In “Granite State” we finally learn what Walt was doing in New Hampshire. The vacuum salesman/rehoming specialist sends Walt to live like a hermit in rural N.H. because his case is too hot to put him anywhere else. The state is synonymous with stoic masculine independence, so it’s a great setting to make a point about the limits of Emersonian self-reliance. Secreted away in a remote cabin with no human contact, Walt belatedly discovers that he really needs other people. Emerson claimed that every man is a genius when he rejects conformity and trusts in his own thoughts. Walt discovers that being alone with his thoughts is torture. There’s no point in being a genius if you have no one to talk to. Money can insulate you from others to a point, but if you have no one to exchange it with, it’s just so much paper.
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I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
“Ozymandias,” the poem about a long-forgotten ruler of Egypt, a cruel tyrant whose colossus lies in ruins, is a metaphor for the transience of worldly power. The monarch taunted posterity with the inscription: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” It so happens that “Remember My Name,” is the tagline for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad. By the end of the episode, the last vestiges of Walt’s empire lie in ruins, but Walt will keep trying to control how people remember him.
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In a dusty corner of the To’hajiilee Indian reservation, Walt loses his battle of wits with Hank and Jesse. This is the clearing where they first started cooking together, the clearing where Hank and Gomey first started poking around in the dust. They’ve come full circle.
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When Skyler learns that Jesse doused the White family home with gasoline, Walt tries to keep his wife focused on the bright side: At least Jesse didn’t follow through with his plan to burn the house down. As usual, Skyler sees the vodka glass as half-empty: A drug-crazed maniac is stalking her family and she’s in no position to go to the police. She demands that Walt kill Jesse. Surprisingly, he resists. Walt is so cocksure of his ability to manipulate Jesse that, instead of calling in a hit, he invites Jesse to meet him in a crowded plaza to talk things over.