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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The ultimate sacrifice?

Today is what would have been the 95th birthday of Ethel Rosenberg , the American woman who was charged with conspiracy against the US government in her "involvement" in selling secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians. She and her husband, Julius, were executed in 1953. She was 37 years old.

Being a history buff, I've always been somewhat morbidly intrigued with the Rosenbergs. The other night I was surfing and somehow ended up in the black hole of Wikipedia searches that led back to these two. They were devout Communists, involved in the web of spying and espionage through her brother David Greenglass, who worked at Los Alamos on The Manhattan Project. David's wife, Ruth, was the one who encouraged her husband and Julius to get involved, and so it began.

In the end, both David and Ruth ultimately betrayed the Rosenbergs, implicating her as having more involvement in the whole thing than she probably did. David later admitted that he doesn't remember who did what, but Ethel had no involvement in it - and both he and Ruth gave false testimony if only to save themselves (and claimed they were encouraged by the prosecution to do so). To this day, he still says he has no regrets whatsoever in betraying his own sister, and says he would not sacrifice his wife and children, even though his own sister did so. Arguably if anyone "deserved" the electric chair for their involvement, it was David and Ruth Greenglass.

One thing that touched me in this story was how Ethel was a mother to two boys, who were only 3 and 6 at the time. The same age as two of my children. I pictured her giving birth to these boys, the glimpse of her fate only a distant glimmer. She probably breastfed them, diapered them and chased them around not much differently than you or I. I pictured her mother giving birth to her, and wondered, as many parents probably do, if she ever thought, Would my children grow up to do something wonderful? Horrible? While it was confirmed that Julius was guilty, people still speculate on Ethel's involvement. The fact remains, though: she knew about her husband's involvement in the spy ring and did nothing to stop it. The impact of selling atomic weapons secrets to the Soviets could (still) put millions of lives in danger - Russia has sold , or at least attempted to sell, military weaponry and nuclear technology to Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, and perhaps even Venezuela. Did the Rosenbergs, and others like them, have any idea of the long-term implications of what they were doing?

The young Rosenberg boys read of their parents' stay of execution

I wondered how two people could become so involved in a thing that would endanger their families so much. Surely they had to know that at some point, one or both of them would be caught. Once they finally were implicated and charged, the boys went to live with several relatives, an orphanage, and finally were adopted by another couple who were also Communist. Both boys grew up with normal, happy childhoods despite the pressure of being the children of such hated, reviled people in American history. Both were well-respected in their academic fields, and one son even applauds his parents for standing up for their beliefs and not "betraying their friends" by giving away the names of people they worked with (unlike their uncle, unfortunately).

Not betraying their friends? That struck me. What cause would I believe so deeply in that I would sacrifice my life and leave my children motherless? Even my belief in Jesus Christ, admittedly, might not even cause me to do that - even though the Bible says that believers should love him more than their own children. But based on my beliefs, somehow the rewards in Heaven for having done so far outweigh the perceived good of spreading communism, which has never worked and probably never will. No references I could find said specifically why the Rosenbergs believed so deeply in the cause, or why they got involved in the spy ring in the first place. While admittedly there was, no doubt, anti-semitism running amok in this country and elsewhere, the execution came less than a decade after many Nazi death camps had been liberated. Without trying to sound too crass, I think Ethel and Julius would have been better off leaving the Horn of Plenty that is the United States and defecting to Russia if they thought it was so great. Communism did nothing but essentially destroy Russia in the end, and isn't doing a whole lot for Cuba right now, either. What personal freedoms and quality of life do Cubans have in comparison to even the poorest people in the United States? If communism is so wonderful, why do Cubans still attempt to defect to America?

Some still despise the Rosenbergs for their actions, and others hail them as heroes for their cause. While in the beginning of her trial I doubt she thought she would actually be executed, as the date drew nearer she had to have known it was inevitable, and yet still did not speak up. An extreme case of loyalty? Hubris? Who knows. I wonder if it was all really worth it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Raising children with morals in an immoral world

Katy Perry's SNL response to Sesame Street - and parents

The latest Katy Perry fiasco has really gotten me thinking. Reading some of the comments made by people - even parents - to "get over it," "be silent," "grow up," "turn the other way" - and the backhanded apology from the Sesame Street team themselves - feels like people are telling parents who find this stuff inappropriate that they're wrong for trying to raise their children with some ounce of common decency. Some have even suggested the entire controversy was started by "moms who are fat and jealous." Jealous of what? Since when am I, and parents like me, the source of the problem and not the people who normalize and justify these behaviors?

There is an entire movement in this country and elsewhere to not circumcise infant boys. Other parents refuse all vaccinations, for whatever their reason. And others eat all organic food, cutting out candy and processed foods from their household. Some consider McDonald's and similar fast food just about the worst you can feed a kid, and steer clear. That's all their personal choice and I respect them for it, even if it's not something I necessarily completely agree with or subscribe to in my household. But I figure, when it comes to their children, they're doing what they feel is best.

We put so much emphasis on the physical well-being of our children - even the President's administration is trying to conquer the plague of childhood obesity. But when it comes to the minds and spiritual well-being of our children, we're supposed to turn a blind eye and forget about it?

(You can bet that if Perry had been using those same breasts to nurse a baby, the very people who thought she was so great would have screamed, "Get her off the air right now!")

It doesn't matter if you're Christian, atheist, go to church or not - most people I know want their kids to grow up well and have morals. No parent says, "Hey, I'm teaching my child how to be a serial rapist! All right!," raising a triumphant fist. Why would anyone want that?

But throughout childhood, the bombardment of images, television and advertisements, cartoons, music and other cultural influences can shape our children's lives in ways we probably can't even begin to imagine. Their brains are like sponges - I'm sure we've all said something maybe once to our children, only to hear them repeat it back to someone else. Kind of embarrassing at times, or just funny to hear them take something so literally.

I mentioned in my last post that I had a babysitter who "watched" me in the afternoons. Rather, she was somewhere in the house, but her kids were in and out, doing whatever. One older daughter was probably in her early 20s, still living at home, and was watching a movie one day while I was there, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I still remember it vividly - something about Paul Newman, Robbie Benson and Newman calling his son "chickenshit" a lot. It's kind of funny but not really. Something I doubt my mom would have approved of in our household. (Perhaps this is where my penchant for swearing comes from, since I never heard that kind of language at home. Who knows.)

Another time someone in the babysitter's house was watching some movie - I have no idea what it was about, but do remember one scene in particular: a crazed guy driving an ice cream truck, and one hapless victim, who unfortunately was a kid, had a sizable hole shot through her chest by his shotgun, knocking her blood-spattered body to the ground. Pretty horrific, huh? What a role model. I remember thinking, 'I'm so glad I live in the country and we don't have ice cream trucks out here!' Needless to say, the sight of Mr. Cool coming down the street gives me unpleasant images even now.

I bet if I came up to her and asked her about it now, she'd look at me like I was nuts and say, "You remember that?" I think that's probably the general consensus: that because they're children, they won't remember or understand, which couldn't be further from the truth.

I can also tell you that said babysitter's husband looked at porn. And didn't leave it in a very hidden place. If it's in the house, people, kids will find it. No matter how well you think you hide it. (If you want something hidden well, maybe you should ask the kid to hide it. Not the parent who thinks he's smarter than the kid.)

My husband also says he remembers seeing pornographic images from moments in his childhood, and how those pictures are etched into his brain forever. This must have been over 30 years ago, and like my "memories," they're still there.

Because I remember what it was like to be a kid, and the stuff that still lingers with me, therefore I do not buy for one second that 'they're just kids, they won't understand!' Media and cultural influences are very sneaky and subversive in not only reeling in kids, but the adults that are their parents. Gradually over the generations we've come to see what our parents wore as stuffy and too conservative, and gradually hemlines have given way to the band-aid like skirts we see everyone wearing today. People complain about women sharing their "muffin tops" with the world, but hey - we wanted it, we got it.

As far as Katy Perry's wardrobe choice on the show, many parents justified it by saying, "You see this every day at the mall." Well, that doesn't make it right. It does not mean you should turn a blind eye, either. I applaud the people who wrote letters or called Sesame Street to give them a piece of their minds, and actually do something about it instead of sit back and let it happen. It seems that so many parents have just become complacent because they feel that there's no choice but to let society win because "majority rules." When this happens, you might as well say, "I'm letting society raise my children by letting it, instead of me, dictate what goes in my household."

You may not have a problem with Perry's dress, but somewhere the line has to be drawn. What would you consider inappropriate? At some point, something has to offend and you realize, This is too much. Another parent and I were talking about it yesterday and she said her four-year-old daughter notices immediately when a top mom is wearing is too revealing by saying, "Mom, your boobies are showing!" She said her older daughter noticed right away in a Hannah Montana video when one of the back-up singers - wayyy in the back - was flashing her midriff during a dance. Kids do notice - they have eyes and ears just like the rest of us, and if anything they are probably more in tune than their adult counterparts.

Like my post on high-heeled shoes for girls , children's clothing is another topic of hot debate. Some of it mirrors dresses like Katy's (minus the cleavage, let's hope) and looks bizarre, like a mini pole dancer decked out in glitter and rhinestones. I walked into The Children's Place the other day and thought a motorcycle gang had taken over: what happened to all the cute, trendy (yet ghastly expensive) clothes I remember? And who replaced them all with skulls and crossbones all of a sudden?

Children dressed in their Sunday Best for a wedding, 1958. Photo from

Children's fashions seem to be mirroring adults', with higher and higher hemlines that creep up before you know it, mini-heels and flared legs. (Photo from The Children's Place website)

Not that these are too terrible, but somehow, I wouldn't be surprised if an adult guy saw girls like in this in public and thought they were much older than they really are. 

One place I've noticed that seems to be really over-the-top in some of their styles is Target. Affordability is probably the biggest point that snares parents in, because in my experience, all those cute-but-conservative "preppy" clothes only come from places like The Gap and cost an arm and a leg. 

From Target. I'm not really sure what this get up is, but it's labeled under "teen fashion."

I've noticed that, for now, the most effective way of combatting cultural crap that I don't want is to turn off my television. No, your kids can't live in a bubble, but just not having access to all of it has helped so far. Most of the people who really had a problem with The Great Sesame Street Gaffe could probably benefit from just turning it off permanently - but I think that's hard for some, because it infringes on the viewing habits of other people (namely the parents). I had to make this decision too when I decided to cancel cable, and finally said, "Who cares? My kids are more important." HGTV can wait. My kids are only young once. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sesame Street ditches Katy Perry

Singer Katy Perry and her low-cut "dress" apparently didn't make the cut on a recent taping of the favorite children's television show. And after looking at the pictures, I can see why parents would complain.
Photo from AP/San Jose Mercury News

Apparently, the top is actually flesh-colored material like the costumes that ice skaters wear. But after watching the video, it looks like boobs to me. I didn't see a full-length picture of the dress, but based on the clips shown in the video, there doesn't look like a whole lot of material there.

The video was first shown on YouTube before making it to the network, and I'm wondering if the producers of Sesame Street did this in order to gauge parents' reactions - because they knew they were crossing a fine line.

Ironically we were just talking about this at the lunch table yesterday - the somewhat questionable stars Sesame Street hosts lately (?) have me scratching my head, wondering if it's really something I want my child watching. One mom commented on a Sex and the City character making an appearance and talking about "Mr. Big," (which went over my head since I don't watch the show) and explained that it referred to Big Bird, (of course!) but was a double entendre from the S&C series. Yeah. Okay. That's the part that sort of irks me. That some of the humor is off-color for children and is understood in more of an adult context. I've never understood how some elements of the script are equally geared towards parents or adults. I think their original expectation is that the adults will be watching with their children, which is probably the last thing that happens, especially these days.

One episode featured "The Shoe Fairy Person," played by Neil Patrick Harris (who just happens to be gay). "The Shoe Fairy?" Really? In 2009, Vanessa Williams appeared - you know, the former Miss America who lost her crown because of her raunchy appearance in Penthouse magazine. Former Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy (who still worked for the magazine both modeling and in 'other capacities' up until fairly recently) has been on the show several times. (This one really puzzled me, considering that McCarthy is known for her often crude, over-the-top sense of humor. How does she explain that to her son, I wonder?)

The article does goes on to say, in reference to the risque costume, "That's right. We don't want a sudden flood of toddlers busting their piggy banks trying to get breast implants." This comment almost implies that parents are wrong for complaining and should just lighten up already.

Maybe they won't ask for a boob job for Christmas just yet. But I've already seen countless little kids faithfully wearing their Justin Beiber t-shirts, Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana get ups and all kinds of other age-inappropriate attire. Halloween is just around the corner - I can't wait to see what kids come out wearing then. High heels for girls, anyone? And just the other day in the store, I heard a gaggle of young kids actually singing Christina Aguilera's "Candyman." (Not sure if they got to the part about vodka and dropping underwear yet.)

People probably think children are too young to get the Katy Perry boob references or understand the lyrics to Aguilera's song, but I beg to differ. A recent study concluded that children are "surprisingly perceptive." No, really?

Even if they don't understand the sexual overtones or get the connection between the real lyrics of Perry's song versus the cleaned up for tv version, I don't think it matters much: I still wouldn't want my child singing them. At least not at that age. 

I look back at some of the sexual references or innuendo that I do remember as a kid, whether from adults having conversations that they thought were over my head or from tv. That stuff still sticks with me. It left an impression, whether good or bad, for a reason. In a lot of ways I think my mom raised me as a product of her own parents' naivete, and her innocence reflected how out of touch she probably was on such issues. 

I think I am way more guarded as a parent than my mom was. Partly because I remember those influences while growing up, and partly because, generationally, things are so much different than when I was a kid. Things were probably beginning to change culturally between the time my mom grew up and when she raised me. Each generation has gotten progressively "worse," with more modern conveniences that either take the place of a parent being more present in the supervisory role or introduce questionable influences into their lives. 

I think back to my Sesame Street days and don't remember anything too overt about some of the guests. Maybe on the Muppet Show, Charo sang and shook her whatever around in 1978 (but then again, I always thought she was kind of whacked, even when I was a kid.)

Being a kid in 1980 was a different time. Things like Adam Walsh's abduction and murder sort of peripherally lingered in the background, and the stories of several high-profile child kidnapings and subsequent murders (like that of Cleveland-area tween Amy Mihaljevic ) were only just starting to take a front seat and make parents wake up. Maybe I was more sheltered, but those were the days of no cable and certainly no internet. No texting, or anything remotely related to a computer would even enter our house for probably six years yet. Now every kid has a cell phone, is texting (or even "sexting") and some young girls have even been chatting with adult men online and meeting them for sex, sometimes ending up with disastrous consequences . 

I'm sure some parents have used tv as a babysitter from its very inception - that much has and never will change. Sometimes, I'm even guilty of that. But it's the stuff they're watching that is crucial. It seems like Sesame Street's original purpose has eclipsed itself, maybe, and now they are introducing cultural references to children who are probably really too young for it. The major problem, though, is that the references to these entertainers is no longer benign, because kids are seeing these people perform in their "adult mode" too. Whatever the reason - an older sibling, a babysitter, maybe even a parent who lets them watch, thinking it's harmless. As a parent, I find nothing cute or funny about seeing a preschooler "attracted" to Justin Beiber (or anyone outside the scope of, say, The Wiggles maybe) and think encouraging this type of behavior possibly just leads to more precocious behavior at a younger age. I don't know why people are surprised that more teens are having sex and getting pregnant, really. 

Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea if Sesame Street would consider only hosting guests who are role models for children both on Sesame Street and in their "real" roles. If they can find any. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

'Abortion fund' is going broke

The other day I read a blog post about how the New York Abortion Assistance Fund is "going broke" and they are making pleas for financial assistance. The non-profit organization provides money to low-income women for them to seek an abortion.

A couple things bugged me, and continue to do so. First, as a Christian, I have a problem with abortion, but - a BIG but - realize that sometimes there is no choice. An ectopic pregnancy, for instance, can threaten your chances of getting pregnant in the future and even kill you if left untreated. Although rare, they do happen, and apparently from some figures, are on the rise.

This is a topic that I tend not to write about, simply because it crosses over into difficult territory when it comes to matters of morality, politics, and spirituality. (I hesitate to use the term 'religion,' because there is a difference.) But this time, I couldn't help myself and it weighed so heavily on me that I had to say something.

I went to the NYAAF's website and saw they were having a number of fundraisers to help their cause. They spoke of a recession being to blame for donations being down, and were holding a bowl-a-thon and some kind of event with alcohol (wine tasting, maybe?) to raise funds. I kind of frowned, because the whole idea of a "bowl-a-thon to support abortion" seemed so bizarre and to almost trivialize the whole thing. That, and kind of thought, "Isn't one of the main attractions of their fundraiser - alcohol - probably what aids in more unplanned pregnancies all over the world?"

Ironically, the very recession that's causing funding of this program to dwindle should be the biggest motivator for people to make even more of an effort to prevent pregnancy.

I then went a little further by researching some of the reasons most commonly cited for abortions. Economics is definitely one of them, where many low- and middle-class women decide to have one because they just can't afford to keep the baby. Only five percent, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, are done because of situations involving rape or incest, and an equally small number are performed for life-threatening medical conditions.

Fetal abnormalities and sexual assault aside, the greatest number of abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, are done because of convenience reasons. I won't so much go into that as much as I am blown away by those who claim 'they had no idea' about access to pregnancy information, how to prevent one, or even claiming that birth control is "inaccessible."

I'm not sure I can believe this.

In today's age, we have unlimited access to the internet, computers, libraries and publications - the works - all at our fingertips. I am willing to bet a large percentage of those people who fall into the "low-income" bracket have a computer at home. At the very least, they can obtain a library card, which gives them unfettered access to library computers, magazines and other publications that can tell them all they need to know and more about birth control and its proper usage. I am wondering why more people don't take advantage of these resources.

You can also go down to any corner drugstore in probably every small town and big city in North America and buy a box of condoms or spermicide. Heck, you can even get them in a vending machine at the truck stop. I mean, is limited finances really a valid excuse anymore? Why not do something to prevent a pregnancy in the first place - because, we should all know that what goes in must come out - and avoid the heartache, emotional and psychological pain, as well as social stigma, whether right or wrong, of having an abortion?

In today's American classrooms sex education classes are usually offered. I have mixed feelings about this: personally, I think parents need to do a better job in educating their children about this stuff and tell their kids the facts, instead of letting them hear it on some talk show or off the street. It doesn't mean you have to hand out birth control; it just means you need to tell your kids that there is always a risk of getting pregnant any time you have sex. Period.

I can't help but think of a couple friends I have on FaceBook who gave birth before their twenties and are now entering grandmotherhood at age 34.

It's estimated that about 18 percent of abortions are performed on teens. And I'm guessing that a growing number of those teens fit the "low-income" category the NYAAF is talking about because they feel they cannot go to their parents for financial assistance when it comes to either having an abortion or raising a baby.

Conversely, I'm wondering just what parents are telling their kids about sex these days. From the looks of it, based on the questions I see on the birth boards I frequent, not a whole hell of a lot. One classic question came up the other day: "Can I get pregnant from having anal sex?" Excuse me? I hope this is bogus. As I told the person, "If you have to even ask this question, then you probably shouldn't be having sex in the first place." If we have such basic misunderstanding or complete lack of knowledge about our anatomy, it's not a wonder teens - and even adults - get pregnant.

Aside from the anal sex question, I have seen more than my fair share of "Am I pregnant?!" questions, including "Can I get pregnant from skipping two pills in my pill pack?" That's usually pretty common. I don't know what's going on here - either the sex ed they're doing in school is not working, or people need to read basic instructions. If you've ever had a prescription filled, you know that the pharmacy includes basic patient information on how to take your medicine. And even if it's not a prescription, there are the package inserts that come with condoms, spermicide - heck, sometimes it's even written on the outside of the box - that plainly say how to use it, when to use it, and that it could fail. Therefore no one can ever say "I had no idea," because it's all right there. Perhaps a milk carton campaign is in order - whatever it takes to get the word out. But its genesis has to start somewhere - and I do think that's squarely with the parents.

Unfortunately I think some parents believe this role should be approached by the public school or the government. And abstinence is always an option, although people quickly dismiss it and say "it doesn't work." As my physician father-in-law says, "Abstinence works every time it's tried." The problem is, it doesn't work because no one's trying it. I've heard the argument "that's unrealistic - humans are sexual beings," as if to justify why it's normal for someone to have sex even though they shouldn't be, as if they just can't help themselves. I'm sorry, but we aren't animals, and unless you're capable of either seeking treatment for an STD, preventing an unwanted pregnancy, taking care of a baby, or dealing with any of the other myriad problems that sexual intercourse presents, you shouldn't be having sex.

And not surprisingly, a lot of teens take a very cavalier approach to sex and pregnancy, comprising a growing number of people affected by STDs before they're even 18. Some I've read questions from use terms like "getting rid of it" to describe what to do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy, and many describe situations about having an abortion only to suspect that they're pregnant just a few months, or even weeks, later. I wonder, does the NYAAF endorse this kind of behavior?

Statistics say that half of American women will have had an unintended pregnancy by the time they are 45. I can say, that two summers ago, I became one of those women. I am happily married, but for whatever reason - namely, because I wanted to lose more weight - I was not planning on getting pregnant. Thinking I knew my cycle like clockwork, I got pregnant. That was a major shocker - I was totally unprepared, in denial, and scared. Then, after a few days of fits of weeping and sadness, I pulled my head out of my ass and realized that maybe this could work better than I thought it could.

As a woman who lives in New York State, I technically (probably) meet their "low-income" requirements. (We already qualify for WIC, which seems kind of laughable, actually.) However, I know that I can easily get reliable birth control, even without a prescription. I know that I have choices - they include not having sex, or protecting myself. And, ironically, the one time birth control failed me was when I did not use it.

Because I don't have a money tree growing in my yard, I sought out an alternative to getting prescription birth control: one that doesn't involve hormones, and is fairly convenient and easy to use. You can get it at Target, Walmart, and I'm sure lots of other places. I know people of all economic backgrounds shop at Target and Walmart, and so I'm wondering where the idea of having limited access to reliable birth control comes in.

Of the women surveyed by the Guttmacher Institute, "fifty-four percent of women who have had abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently."(emphasis mine) A certain percentage reported getting pregnant while using those methods, and reporting consistent usage; we can assume that a) these people contribute to the reported failure rate of certain forms of contraception, or b) that perhaps their idea of 'consistent' isn't all that consistent. And, "each year two percent of women aged 15-44 have an abortion; half have had at least one previous abortion." That's quite a large number, when you consider the entire female population of the United States.

Even more alarming, is that of those surveyed, nearly 50 percent of them had used no contraception whatsoever. "Of these, 33 percent had perceived themselves to be at low risk for a pregnancy." Scary. The study goes on to say that, statistically, those people for whom non-use of contraception is greatest are those who are "young, poor, black, Hispanic or less educated." That opens up another can of worms for sure, a can so big I could devote an entire blog to it.

Interestingly enough, when I googled "pregnancy prevention" I found a lot of resources that dealt with teenagers. However, statistics show that women between the ages of 20 to 24 obtain 33% of all abortions, and around 24% of women aged 24 to 29 obtain one. As if to reflect the trend of abortion for convenience sake, one particular website offers the stories of unremorseful women who've had abortions - many, if not all, of which featured stories from women who got pregnant because of extreme lapses in judgment involving alcohol use, or because they simply did not use contraception (or both). I went round and round with one woman who supports the site not that long ago, who's newspaper editorial on the subject - and her rather blase attitude about the whole thing - started off a veritable firestorm of fury.

Of course we know birth control can fail. Prescription, non-prescription; we know it can happen. I remember one woman on a birth board who had like six kids, all of which were conceived while she was taking some form of birth control. If you are concerned at all about preventing pregnancy, then at the very least, use it. The Guttmacher Institute and others say that even though there is some margin for failure when using protection, it's still much better than not using anything. And if you're really concerned about getting pregnant, double up. If you have a known medical illness that could pose serious threats to your health should you get pregnant, double up. It seems rather simple, really.

It's hard not to draw some conclusions here: that people who choose not to use birth control and have sex, yet wind up pregnant unintentionally, are somehow not taking responsibility for themselves. Blaming an inability to afford it seems like a weak excuse when you consider the growing number of cheap, effective ways of preventing pregnancy. Coupled with ignorance about basic bodily functions and a complete lack of motivation to find out about them, it presents an alarming trend.

You don't really have to be a rocket scientist to prevent a pregnancy. I guess it just means you have to want to prevent one. I would (and probably do) dole out taxpayer money to educate women (and men!) to become better advocates of their own health - and to take charge of their fertility - before it's too late.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Being censored: by your OB?

Dovetailing on my last blog post, I received a comment from reader K, who said that many doctors are requiring releases be signed, among the mountain of other paperwork, that basically say you will not go on web sites like Rate MD's, etc. in order to leave bad reviews about them. I had no idea, but it makes perfect sense.

I've never seen such a release while filling out paperwork at any of my doctor's offices, but then again, I haven't really looked for it, either. K said that, tucked in between HIPAA regulations, this that and the other, is the form, which basically means you are effectively being censored - by your doctor.

This article basically states that if you sign such a release at your next visit and break that agreement, your doctor can effectively get your negative review removed, no matter how true it might be.

Now, I've never known anyone who's actually sued their doctor. Some lawsuits, for sure, are definitely warranted. I've known some patients who probably could stand to have sued - but didn't. Conversely, I also know that some physicians are sued when they shouldn't be, unfortunately. You will always have patients who, coupled with a shady trial attorney, will bring you up on ridiculous charges and somehow win. Perhaps that is less about the capabilities of our doctors but the state of our legal system. (Think lady who sued McDonald's for coffee that was 'too hot' and won, for instance.)

Instead of being able to silence patients, I think these doctors should perhaps take a look at their practices. Take Dr. Yacht, for instance, and his reviews. Judging from corroborated information from another physician, we know that there is probably some truth to those negative comments about his '8 to 5' delivery practices.

And I'm not sure what doctors are really worried about - yes, you will get a few wackos writing in who will always have something negative to say, no matter what. That probably can't be helped, but neither should their right to say something be removed. Doctors are concerned that ex-spouses, 'disgruntled employees' and others who are not truly patients will write something that could cause great harm to their reputations. However, for the few bad reviews there are million that claim "Dr. Yacht delivered all six of my babies by c-section and saved my life!", so it appears that no one is listening anyway. How easy would it be for a doctor to delete a dozen or so truthful comments about questionable medical practices, under the pretense that it's an angry former employee?

Interestingly enough, the blog post linked above mentions a trial lawyer who is developing a plan to countersue patients in a "three-pronged attack." I can see where this could benefit a physician who is being sued by a 'sue-happy' patient - there are lots of those out there. But in the case of obstetrics, this could present a problem. Many OB's get sued because the 'patient didn't get a perfect baby,' as they say. As a result, sometimes the OB's response to one problem is to implement measures to avoid future problems in all patients, which is no doubt where we've crossed the invisible line of necessary vs. harmful in obstetrical care. Too much care in the form of more monitoring, checking, etc. etc. has actually proven non-beneficial - but this is no doubt one of the reasons why. How can you prove your doctor was practicing unethically when he "pitted you (and all his patients) to distress"? When a certain percentage of doctors do this, is it considered mainstream behavior and therefore acceptable? Where do you draw the line?

All I can say is, read the fine print, ladies. Don't sign something before you've read it - which is easier said than done when you're contracting in labor and they shove a release form in your face. This is probably how many unwanted procedures happen - when they catch you at a moment where your guard is down and you are too distracted to read everything.

As one patient put it, "I would not be likely to even want to be treated by a physician that was so paranoid about what might be said about them by a patient so as to request that such a document be signed by them. For me, that would be a signal to get the hell out of their office asap and never go back."

My sentiments exactly.