Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Ultrasound Image Of Baby Girl Sucking Her Thumb Changes Parents’ Minds About Aborting Her

via The ultrasound that saved a baby girl’s life – guest post by Dr Linda M. Lee at KevinMD.com. Originally posted at Dr. Linda’s Life Lessons

“We already have two girls at home and we want a son. We have too many girls.” My eyes welled with tears as I thought of the fate of this poor, helpless baby who had no voice, no rights, and who was about to be “attacked just because she was female.”

I pulled the ultrasound image from the chart and my heart quickened. The image was of the perfect outline of the precious little baby girl sucking her thumb. The timing of the ultrasound image was perfect.

I proudly showed them the image, and the look and emotion on their faces changed.

“That is our baby?” they inquired. “We didn’t think it had that much form, and she is sucking her thumb already?”

Read the rest of the post here or here.

Score one for ultrasound!

*This blog post was originally published at scan man's notes*

The Hyde Amendment: Abortion Coverage and Health Insurance Reform

I’m going to wade right in here.  I am not a fan of abortions, but neither am I of amputations.  Both are sometimes necessary.  To me, too often abortion opponents forget the mother.  She is a life present before us.  Her care should not be forgotten.

I have been listening and reading the discussions over how the abortion coverage may sink health care reform.  I think it would be a shame if this one issue does sink reform.

If my understanding of the Hyde Amendment (and it’s amendments over the years) is correct the Federal Government covers the cost of abortions in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.  It does not cover the cost when the health of the mother is at risk:

With these bans, the federal government turns its back on women who need abortions for their health.  Women with cancer, diabetes, or heart conditions, or whose pregnancies otherwise threaten their health, are denied coverage for abortions.  Only if a woman would otherwise die, or if her pregnancy results from rape or incest, is an abortion covered.  The bans thus put many women’s health in jeopardy.

I agree with opponents who do not wish to cover abortions for simply any reason (i.e. the timing for a pregnancy is not good, etc).  Abortion should never be used for birth control.  That should be done using birth control pills, condoms, abstinence, etc.

Currently, the only abortions available under Medicaid are the ones mentioned above.  I think it’s a shame that distinctions can not be made to provide coverage for a woman who’s HEALTH would be negatively affected by her pregnancy.  All insurance policies should do so in my opinion.

Opponents of abortion want language that would prohibit any private insurance company that accepts federal funds from offering to policyholders abortions other than those already eligible under Medicaid.

Sources

How Abortion Could Imperil Health-Care Reform by Michael Scherer; Monday, Aug. 24, 2009; Times.com

What is the Hyde Amendment? (July 21, 2004); ACLU

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

In Response To Dr.Val On The Abortion “Issue”

Abortion and the intense debate about it in an otherwise enlightened (?) country was the topic of two of my earliest posts in this blog (this post and this one). I posted again when it looked like the debate was going to start in India. Thankfully, it died a natural death.

Those of you who follow me on twitter know that abortion has been on my mind following the sickening murder of Dr. Tiller. For the record, I didn’t even know that there existed such a doctor as he till I chanced upon news of his death. I refrained from writing anything here as I figured I had stated my views already.

Then I saw this post in my friend Dr. Val’s blog.

The abortion “issue” is such a hot topic that I have never written about it on this blog until today. I hope I won’t regret that decision but I felt it was appropriate to respond to this medical student’s essay – and the ~560+ comments that follow it – as a physician who has witnessed (but never performed) about 100 abortions. Let me explain.

Read the entire post at Better Health: A Third-Year Medical Student Discusses Her Views On Abortion In The Washington Post.

Also read the medical student Rozalyn Farmer Love’s post, My Choice, in the Washington Post.

I’m a third-year medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I plan to become an obstetrician-gynecologist. I dream of delivering healthy babies, working with families and supporting midwifery. But as part of my practice, I also envision providing abortions to women who need them. …

I agree that ending an unwanted pregnancy is a tragedy. When I advocate for reproductive rights, for choice, I don’t claim that abortion is morally acceptable. I think that it’s a very private, intensely personal decision. But I was stunned when one of my professors, a pathologist and a Planned Parenthood supporter, told me that decades ago, entire wings of the university’s hospital were filled with women dying from infections caused by botched abortions. It’s clear that women who don’t want to be pregnant won’t be deterred by limited access to providers or to clinics. And I believe that it’s immoral to let them die rather than provide them with safe, competent care.

The lines that affected me the most were…

I plan to choose a residency program that provides further training — a place where I won’t worry that asking to be taught to perform an abortion could somehow limit my future options. At the start of medical school, I was very careful about how I presented my pro-choice views to the faculty for fear that I could jeopardize my grades or hurt my chances for recommendations or of being accepted into a program run by any of the professors. This experience of treading lightly is unique to medical students in more conservative parts of the country, where opposition to abortion is widespread…

I was equally moved by these lines from Val’s post…

I initiated rapid sequence intubation with the assistance of the anesthesiologist, and then moved to get the ultrasound machine to visualize the uterus and its contents. Much to my discomfort the fetus was fairly large – and was moving around normally, even sucking its thumb at one point. I asked the Ob/Gyn resident why the fetus was being aborted since it didn’t appear to have any structural abnormalities. She responded that the mother simply didn’t want to have the baby, and had wrestled with the idea of abortion for a long time before she made her final decision. The rest of the procedure is a bit of a blur – with details too graphic to describe here. But suffice it to say that the resident performing the dilatation and curettage had a fairly difficult time removing the fetus through the cervix, and had to resort to eliminating it in smaller parts, rather than a whole. It was very sad and it took a long time to make sure that the uterus was fully evacuated. I decided that I couldn’t watch another one of these procedures.

All I can say to Val is: Do not visit any ObGyn procedure room or OT if/when you visit India.

I did not set out to write this to hand out that gratuitous bit of advice to Val. I wanted to highlight something else that she had written that caught my attention and raised some doubts.

In my opinion women should have the right to choose to have an abortion, but I’d hope that they also consider their right to choose to give their baby up for adoption as well. Some believe that an abortion is “easier” than giving up a baby for adoption – but I’m not so sure that’s the case from an emotional perspective.

I want Val and all those who share similar views re. adoption as an alternative to abortion to read this moving essay by Judy Brown in which she says When Abortion Was a Crime, I Would Have Sought One. Read the entire essay and pay particular attention to the two paragraphs at the end…

There are approximately 500,000 children in the foster care at any time in the United State — many of those children are adoptable, but will not be adopted — why don’t “pro-life” advocates step forward to adopt them now? Do they want the forced return to warehouse orphanages for still more unwanted children? Do they want women sent to prison for seeking an abortion, and doctors also jailed, when we already have a shortage of doctors in this country? And nurses jailed, when we have a shortage of nurses in this country? How much damage and destruction of life will they support to force the rest of us to subscribe to their “religous” views? I’ve never heard a so-called “pro-life” advocate answer those questions honestly. Making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, it will just stop safe abortions, as is the reality in the few civilized countries in which abortion isn’t legal, but their abortion wards are full to bursting with maimed women, and whose morgues overflow with dead women.

I agree with Val’s concluding paragraph that Rozalyn, the third year medical student may change her mind after witnessing or performing a few procedures.

Even in a country where abortion is a non-issue, I believe there are many medical professionals who are troubled by late trimester abortions and abortions-on-demand. I am one such. But the sad reality is that we are the minority here. I feel particularly sad because occasionally in my professional role as a diagnostic radiologist I am the cause of some of these wrenching cases of late trimester abortions. Some of them I can agree with, though they could have been avoided by earlier diagnosis and decision-making,  like an anencephaly being diagnosed at 35 weeks gestation. But most are not that morally or ethically clear cut.

*This blog post was originally published at scan man's notes*

A Third-Year Medical Student Discusses Her Views On Abortion In The Washington Post

The abortion “issue” is such a hot topic that I have never written about it on this blog until today. I hope I won’t regret that decision but I felt it was appropriate to respond to this medical student’s essay – and the ~560+ comments that follow it – as a physician who has witnessed (but never performed) about 100 abortions. Let me explain.

During my Emergency Medicine training I was required to perform a certain number of intubations and abdominal ultrasound scans. My residency training program offered rotations in Ob/Gyn and at a local Planned Parenthood center. The senior residents told me that the best way to fulfill my intubation requirements was to assist with the Ob/Gyn OR procedures because the patients were young, healthy, and generally uncomplicated. At the time I was really excited by the opportunity to get the experience I needed – in as short a time as possible. I used to hang out in an Ob/Gyn operating room asking if I could assist the anesthesiologist with the intubations. Once they got to know and trust me, I could intubate about 6 patients in a day – an opportunity otherwise hard to come by as all the new anesthesiology residents were vying to practice intubation themselves.

One of the Ob/Gyns who used the OR (where I got my intubation experience) scheduled some abortions of fetuses that were at the border of viable – as old as 23 weeks. That made me quite uncomfortable, and I know that there were other staff (and several nurses) who refused to work with that physician. However, as squirmy as I felt, I thought it was important for me to see first hand what the procedure entailed… because otherwise I’d have to rely on anecdotes and second-hand opinions to draw my own conclusions. I wanted to see this for myself.

I’ll never forget the day I witnessed the first late-ish term abortion. I was preparing my intubation equipment – fidgeting with the Mac size 4 blade, making sure the light worked, when the physician brought the patient into the room on a gurney. The woman’s abdomen was very pregnant, and the Ob/Gyn was stroking her hair and whispering reassuring things to her. The anesthesiologist made small talk with the patient, explaining the nuts and bolts of the anesthesia – the oxygen mask – the propofol – the intubation. I stayed out of the patient’s line of sight and allowed the Ob/Gyn and her resident to spend some final moments with her. The scene was both tense, and yet supportive of the patient.

I initiated rapid sequence intubation with the assistance of the anesthesiologist, and then moved to get the ultrasound machine to visualize the uterus and its contents. Much to my discomfort the fetus was fairly large – and was moving around normally, even sucking its thumb at one point. I asked the Ob/Gyn resident why the fetus was being aborted since it didn’t appear to have any structural abnormalities. She responded that the mother simply didn’t want to have the baby, and had wrestled with the idea of abortion for a long time before she made her final decision.

The rest of the procedure is a bit of a blur – with details too graphic to describe here. But suffice it to say that the resident performing the dilatation and curettage had a fairly difficult time removing the fetus through the cervix, and had to resort to eliminating it in smaller parts, rather than a whole. It was very sad and it took a long time to make sure that the uterus was fully evacuated. I decided that I couldn’t watch another one of these procedures.

The rest of my female abdominal ultrasound experience was obtained at a Planned Parenthood center where very early abortions were performed. Generally, this consisted of suctioning out a tiny yolk sac (and “products of conception”) – without much of a recognizable fetus in the midst. Although these procedures were certainly emotional, they were somewhat less troubling than the later term dilatation and curettage.

What I didn’t expect, however, was that of the approximately 100 abortions I witnessed – none (to my knowledge) of the women requesting them were rape victims, nor was there a life-threatening birth defect in the fetus. Usually the reason they gave was psychological, emotional, or financial – “I just can’t afford to raise a child” or “This is not a good time for me to be pregnant” or “I don’t want this baby” or “I don’t want another baby” or “This was an accident, and I don’t want it to ruin my life.”

I did my very best to adopt an attitude much like the one that the author of the Washington Post article did – “It’s not for me to judge the validity of someone else’s reasons for wanting an abortion… They’re going to do it anyway so physicians need to make sure they’re safe… Women have the right to choose…”

But the reality was that those attitudes didn’t prepare me for the emotional turmoil inherent in the process of abortion. It’s sadder than I thought, more difficult than I thought… and the impact is farther reaching than I imagined. Studies estimate that about 1/3 of US women have an abortion at some point in their lives – that’s a heavy emotional burden that many women carry in silence.

In my opinion women should have the right to choose to have an abortion, but I’d hope that they also consider their right to choose to give their baby up for adoption as well. Some believe that an abortion is “easier” than giving up a baby for adoption – but I’m not so sure that’s the case from an emotional perspective. As far as rape victims or women who are carrying a moribund fetus – the decision to abort may well be emotionally less damaging. But for the majority of women who have abortions for less clear reasons (reasons like the ones I witnessed), I’d really encourage them to consider adoption as an option. Obviously, these decisions are intensely personal and have to be made on a case-by-case basis – and women should be supported either way.

As scientific and rational as I wanted to be about the procedure, I am still troubled by what I experienced as a witness to various abortions. Though I might have “entered the abortion conversation” as the third-year medical student did – after witnessing quite a few, I have a deeper appreciation for the emotional complexity of abortion, and a desire to help women avoid them if at all possible. I wonder if the author of the Washington Post article will change her perspective after she’s witnessed a few of the procedures?

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »