Aug 10 2015

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again For American Consumers

Sugary TreatsLast year,  we were warned. The sugar industry was unwilling to let sales drop, just because its product helped make people obese and diabetic. Posts like this became more frequent. It wasn’t just about the dangers of too much sugar–it was about how to distract the American consumer from those dangers. And where did the sugar lords go to learn how to carry out this deception? As Kristina Bravo, of TakePart found, they went to the most experienced, best financed, slickest dressers of wolves in sheeps’ clothing out there: Big Tobacco.  Cast doubt on the science with the most pliable experts that boatloads of money can buy. Give them their industry-serving talking points.  Make fun of the “worry warts” who took the warnings of danger seriously.

Ms. Bravo quotes a University of California professor of pediatrics, who has found that the “food industry knows that when they add [sugar] to food, you buy more. They don’t add it for any other reason. You can’t tell how much sugar has been added, and the food industry wants it that way.”  Sound familiar? It should. Just replace the word “sugar” with “nicotine,” and the fond memories should come flooding back.

Well, the warnings have turned out to be prescient. In today’s New York Times (August 10, 2015) is an article entitled, “Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets.”  Coke has put together a team of scientists to preach the message: “To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories.”   But many health experts warn that this message is misleading, that it works to deflect the role of Coke and its ilk in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and that Coke is cynically trying to convince us that exercise can offset a poor, sugar-filled diet, even though most studies show that exercise “has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume.”  This is more sophisticated stuff than just making fun of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “nanny state” of regulated soft drinks.

Why is it important to be wary of Big Sugar’s effort to emulate Big Tobacco? Because like Big Tobacco, which has lost the trust of anyone who knows about its role in creating tort reform, Big Sugar has lots to hide, and lots at stake, financially, if it fails in that effort.  For example, something you are unlikely to hear about from Big Sugar is that academic scientists who publish in, say, The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, have found several troubling connections between the consumption of sugar and Alzheimer’s disease.  But why worry about that when you’ll be too confused to remember much of anything at all about your eating history?

May 29 2015

Marital Vows and Medical Malpractice

wedding-photographer-toronto-3I am not a religious officiant. I have never become a Universal Life Minister, even for a day to marry close friends. But I know this: when you married folks promised to stand by him or her “in sickness and in health,” there were unspoken limits in that phrase.  For instance, if you were a young man fresh out of law school, slinging files for a district attorney, Legal Aid, or  Corp. Counsel, because you knew you had to be a trial lawyer, you were in no way committing to prosecute a medical malpractice case on your young bride’s behalf, in case she was ever a victim of medical negligence, and in case you became a plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer.  All you had agreed to, realistically, was to remain patient enough not to run away to Vegas with that Twin Peaks waitress after your wife’s third week of intestinal flu, which also made her very bitchy.

Unfortunately, not every married lawyer experiences this kind of free thinking.  An attorney named Peter M. Zirbes is apparently one who felt constrained to represent his wife recently, in Suffolk County Supreme Court, when she lost vision in one eye as a result of alleged malpractice during a catheterization procedure.The trial is not over, but the defense attorneys moved to disqualify Mr. Zirbes from continuing to represent his wife, based on their belief that Mr. Zirbes had had discussions with the defendant doctors about the risks and benefits of the procedure performed on Mr. Zirbes’s wife, the plaintiff.  Therefore, they viewed him as a witness in the case.

Justice Joseph Farnetti denied defendants’ motion, and allowed Mr. Zirbes to continue to represent his wife.  But he did so only because the claim for which Mr. Zirbes’s observations might have been useful–that based on the lack of informed consent–was struck by the judge, obviating the need for any testimony from any person about risks and benefits of the procedure.  Chances are, however, that if you are the spouse of someone injured by medical malpractice, you will witness something that will make you a helpful witness on your spouse’s behalf.

So the lesson here is, please do not provide legal representation to your wife or husband. It’s a minefield for legal mishaps, and you never promised to do it at your wedding anyway.  And there is no question but that your emotions will deprive you of the calmness and objectivity you will need to do your best. But it really all goes back to that old chestnut about the perils of representing one’s self, often attributed to Abe Lincoln. It is something like–a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.  Let’s expand it to say–a lawyer who represents him or herself, or his or her spouse, has a fool for a client.


May 24 2015

Dr. Oz Is Largely Bulletproof When It Comes To Malpractice

duck1Dr. Mehmet Oz is a New York-based surgeon and television personality.  He brings the complexities of medicine to the people, on shows like “Oprah,” where he tends to preach about products and processes that are modern and “natural.”  He is unconstrained by the boundaries of traditional medicine. Some would say he is unmoored from them.  As long as his adoring viewing public views him as an entertainer with a medical degree, no one gets hurt.  Unfortunately, some viewers have taken him, and his advice, literally, much to their sorrow.

One of the better-known debacles sprung from the weight-loss wonders Dr. Oz assured his public could be found in green coffee beans. It was exciting news, and would result in the loss of 16% of one’s body fat, whether the user exercised or not.  Except the claims were based on poor and unsubstantiated research, forcing Dr. Oz to ultimately acknowledge that more research needed to be performed. Pushing this untested, new-age snake oil likely resulted in nothing more harmful than dashed expectation and some wasted cash.

But then things heated up a bit, after Dr. Oz told his viewers that heating rice-filled socks in the microwave oven and placing them on your feet before bed would help them sleep.  One viewer, Frank Dietl, followed the suggestion, and wound up with third-degree burns on his feet, as is detailed in the article. The victim sued Dr. Oz over his injuries.

The victim lost. If fact, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Dr. Oz “won.”  Any New York medical malpractice lawyer could have predicted that for Mr. Dietl, before he and his attorney filed their lawsuit. Why? Because there can be no medical malpractice without there first being a doctor-patient relationship. Without that, the physician owes no duty of care to someone who decides to give that physician’s advice a whirl. For those of you so inclined, this case provides all the explanation you’ll ever need.  Suffice it to say that Dr. Oz, and one of his many fans out in TV land, never had a doctor-patient relationship.  And no other television viewer silly enough to take Dr. Oz’s medical advice seriously will be able to sue him for medical malpractice, either, for the same reason.

If you would like to establish a doctor-patient relationship with Dr. Oz, you will have to go see him in his office, sign all the required paperwork, speak to him face-to-face about your particular problems, allow him to examine you….well, you get the picture.  Of course, maybe you don’t want to establish that kind of relationship with a doctor who appears to be focused more on television and pushing boundaries, then on carefully treating his patients. But I’ll leave that up to you.




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