Watching the World
NEW BLOOD LAW
On January 1, 1990, California became the first state in the United States to enact a law requiring physicians and surgeons to inform their patients of the dangers of blood transfusions “whenever there is a possibility that a blood transfusion may be necessary as a result of a surgical procedure.” According to the new law, a patient should also be told in writing of both the dangers and the advantages of various alternatives to receiving someone else’s blood in a transfusion. Surgeons and physicians must make a note on the patient’s medical record that the patient was so informed. These measures do not apply, though, when what is said to be a “life threatening emergency” exists. Called The Paul Gann Blood Safety Act, the measure is named for a renowned crusader for tax reforms who died of AIDS he had got from a blood transfusion. According to his obituary in Time magazine, “Gann believed that people who knowingly transmit [AIDS] ‘should be tried for murder.’”
DO NURSES HAVE THE RIGHT OF CHOICE?
While proabortionists claim that every woman should have the right to choose abortion, many nurses in Canada feel that they are being denied their own right of choice—the freedom to refuse to assist doctors with abortions. According to The Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada, many nurses in that country are asked to sign statements declaring that their religious and personal beliefs will not prevent them from carrying out any duties they may be assigned. If they refuse to assist with abortions, “they should look for another job,” according to a spokesperson for the Ontario Hospital Association. Other countries make allowances for a nurse’s conscience. Britain’s Royal College of Nursing even suggests ongoing counseling for nurses who assist with abortions, since nurses may decide to quit the practice after seeing abortions firsthand.
A COMPLEX UNIVERSE
The discovery of vast structures in space may force scientists to reevaluate their theories. One such structure, referred to as “the great wall,” is described as an immense, flat expanse of galaxies spread out over a thousand million light-years. Another structure is termed “the great attractor” because it is pulling so many galaxies, including our own, toward itself. The New York Times notes that such structures, which “are not simply galaxies or clusters of them, but huge ‘continents of galaxies,’” confirm theories that “the basic objects in the universe are far larger and more complicated than astronomers had imagined.” One astrophysicist told the Times that many theorists were hoping that the great attractor would go away. Why? “We just don’t understand how such a large structure can be formed,” he said.
“ATROPHY OF RELIGIOUS LIFE”
Is religion important to the Italian people? Not according to a recent survey of 2,008 Italians from 14 to 70 years of age. Of those interviewed, 61.5 percent said they never or hardly ever pray. Only 0.5 percent would go to a priest for advice. A meager 8 percent felt that faith was needed to improve human relations. According to the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, “45 percent [of the Italian people] claim they are believers, but they are not sure in what.” And Il Giornale says that what beliefs Italians do have are more “a lazy acceptance of the past than a conscious choice.” La Stampa characterized the situation as an “atrophy of religious life” in Italy. What has taken the place of the disintegrating religions? Il Corriere della Sera answers: “In their place, for the time being, there is a vacuum.”
AIDS IN INDIA
At the outset of 1990, there were reported to be only 41 cases of full-blown AIDS in India; yet that nation may be the first in Asia to suffer a major AIDS epidemic, according to The Toronto Star. The Indian government estimates that some 10,000 of the 100,000 prostitutes in Bombay are already infected with the deadly virus. That group alone may be capable of infecting 20,000 men in a single year. Many prostitutes refuse to quit their trade even after they learn that they are infected, claiming that they have no other way to earn a living. Hundreds of India’s professional blood sellers also carry the AIDS virus; yet many continue to sell their blood to make a living. As the virus spreads throughout the country, one medical official in Bombay summarizes the picture in that city: “This is a ticking time bomb.”
The new subway system in Cairo, Egypt, has been widely praised for its cleanness, efficiency, and safety. The women of Cairo, however, have opted for an improvement. One car of each train has been set aside for female passengers only. The new policy was backed by Thuraya Labna, feminist member of the Egyptian parliament, who claimed that Egyptian women needed a safe way to use public transportation without suffering from the sexual harassment so prevalent in Cairo. Although the plan has drawn some criticism (for instance, the women’s subway car has been derided as a ‘harem on wheels’), it has reportedly made some gains toward its goal of protecting women.
THE POOREST OF THE POOR
In February 1990, representatives from the 42 poorest nations in the world met for a weekend in Bangladesh to formulate new ways to convince the world’s wealthier nations that some 500 million people are in urgent need of help. A similar conference was held in 1981, but none of its major goals were met. In fact, The New York Times reports that “the 1980’s have brought more degrading poverty, declining literacy, worsening health and generally lower living standards.” The average per capita income in the 42 nations is only $200 (U.S.) a year. Twenty-eight of the countries are in Africa, nine are in Asia, four are island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans, and one is in the Caribbean Sea of the Americas.
ALCOHOL AND WOMEN
It has long been observed that alcohol has more impact on women than it does on men. One popular explanation has been that men weigh more, so they can absorb more alcohol. But now Italian and American scientists have found that the female body manufactures 30 percent less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase than the male body does. While alcohol is still in the stomach, the enzyme breaks some of it down before it can enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain, liver, and other organs. Male alcoholics continue to produce about half their normal levels of the enzyme, while female alcoholics produce almost none at all.
A DRINKING PROBLEM
“Keeping drinking water clean is a problem clear across Europe and beyond,” reports The German Tribune. According to the German newspaper Deutsches Allgemeines Sonntagsblatt, the German Gas and Water Boards Association estimates that of the 6,300 waterworks in the Federal Republic of Germany, between 10 and 20 percent fail to meet the European standard for drinking water. The government allows the use of about 1,400 pesticides, which contain some 240 chemical agents. So far, traces of at least 40 of those agents have been found in the country’s drinking water, its groundwater, and even, increasingly, in its rainwater. Besides, German drinking water is still suffering delayed effects from World War II. In one small town, the site of a former munitions factory, six wells had to be shut down; they were contaminated with the residues of TNT production.
WORSE THAN OBESITY
It is common knowledge that quitting smoking may contribute to subsequent weight gain and that obesity is a health hazard. But those two facts do not support the rationale of some smokers that it is healthier to go on smoking and stay trim than to quit and gain weight. According to Britain’s Economist, a statistician and an epidemiologist have analyzed data from an extensive study of over 7,000 British men. The researchers concluded that while it is indeed dangerous to be obese, smoking 20 cigarettes a day is even more dangerous. Says The Economist: “Even gross obesity was found to be better than smoking (not because gross obesity is not so bad after all, but because smoking is really awful).”
Modern-day pollution has spawned an unusual new malady. Referred to as ecological illness, environmental hypersensitivity, or 20th-century disease, it reportedly afflicts some 30,000 people in Ontario, Canada, alone. Sufferers are extremely sensitive to a plethora of man-made chemicals and pollutants, ranging from cigarette smoke to the ink on a printed page. In extreme cases, sufferers become homebound invalids, breathing through an oxygen mask. The Toronto Star notes that some experts believe that the suffering of these few “is a warning that something has gone very wrong.”