All posts by Joseph H. Saunders

Joint Commission Recommends Surgeons Find Alternatives to Vaginal Mesh

A joint study authored by the American College of Obstetricians and the American Urogynecologic Society is now recommending that surgeons limit the use of the vaginal mesh medical device in high-risk patients who aren’t candidates for other types of medical interventions to remedy pelvic organ prolapse or female urinary incontinence.
The report was issued in the wake of months of news that the transvaginal or vaginal mesh medical device may cause serious health consequences and side effects for women who have the mesh implanted in order to treat these two medical conditions. In addition to findings that the mesh has a higher than acceptable failure rate which may require further surgeries, the vaginal mesh has not proven effective in treating either condition.
As a result of the negative findings, vaginal mesh lawsuits are mounting across the country as women are experiencing pain, discomfort and the prospect of future surgeries in order to repair the problems caused by the vaginal mesh.

In Light of Penn State and Syracuse University Sex Abuse Scandal, Pennsylvania and NY SOL Reform Overdue

It’s ironic that the two most recent and egregious cases of school sex abuse have occurred in states (New York and Pennsylvania) where reform of the civil statutes of limitations is sorely needed. In both states, sex abuse survivors are often barred from bringing legitimate sex abuse lawsuits because the cases are time barred by arbitrary and ineffective (at least in sex abuse cases) statutes of limitations. Originally, such statutes were rightly enacted in order to protect potential defendants from lawsuits arising out of claims that happened in the long ago past. However, in light of what we know about sex abuse cases as well as the psychological process most survivors endure after being abused, such statutes aren’t appropriate or just.
In light of the Penn State sex abuse scandal and the same saga being played out at Syracuse University it’s time both state legislators consider serious statute of limitations reform.

The Real History of Catholic Priest Sex Abuse

In the Netherlands, two boarding school teachers were convicted of molesting children. The following day, the presiding judge sent a letter to a Catholic member of Parliament urging more stringent hiring practices and thorough background checks. The judge’s communication with that member of Parliament resulted in 112 Catholic schools receiving a letter of appeal to take action to prevent the sexual abuse of schoolchildren. That was 1958.
Too often, we hear from Catholic bishops that “we didn’t know” or “how could we have known”. Yet, as is often the case, there were clear signs dating back decades that should have been impetus for change. Only years later does the public find out that people inside these institutions knew about warnings, signs, indications that something is amiss. Undoubtedly, the same will occur with the Penn State sex debacle. One could surmise it’s easier to feign ignorance than admit signs and warnings were ignored. That would make those who ignored such things complicit in the abuse of children.

The Problem with Hip Procedures

A recent front-page article in the NY Times suggested that the latest hip procedure involving hip resurfacing or hip shaving is gaining popularity, especially among athletes. The resurfacing or shaving concerns a relatively quick surgical procedure that involves removing part of the top of the femur in order to reshape and/or remove bumps or grooves in the surface. In theory, this appears to be a good idea. However, like other hip procedures such as hip implants such as the DePuy ASR XL or the Zimmer hip implants, the resurfacing procedure has scant scientific evidence that shows it is effective in alleviating pain and increasing agility.
That’s really the issue with the recent spate of hip replacement lawsuits involving the Zimmer or DePuy ASR and Pinnacle hips. The marketing of these hips and procedures has progressed beyond the available scientific evidence. In other words, these new products are being sold without solid pre-marketing evidence that they actually work. Inevitably, this leads to hip implant recalls and lawsuits. The medical device industry has for too long been allowed to market products that don’t work and are actually more injurious to the patient than older methods and devices.
This may or may not prove true with the most recent hip resurfacing procedure. However, since there is scant evidence to suggest it works, why are these procedures approved for use on young athletes? That’s a good question for the FDA and the entire industry that seems to have placed profits over patient safety.

Penn State Caught in Sex Abuse Scandal

As the sexual abuse saga continues to rile religious institutions around the world, venerable Penn State University has been snared in this tragedy. Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, has been charged with multiple charges involving the sexual abuse of minors. Most of the victims were in their early teens when the alleged abuse occurred. However, law enforcement officials fear that some abuse victims who have yet to come forward may be even younger.
Making matters worse, local Pennsylvania law enforcement officials have filed more charges against top-ranking Penn State administrators for lying to a grand jury about the sexual abuse as well as conspiracy to cover up the Sandusky sexual abuse.
This horrific news has left the collegiate community and its alumni deeply concerned and shocked. The weekend’s revelations point to the sad fact that child sexual abuse is a societal scourge for which we are all responsible and must take an active role in rooting out. Civil and criminal laws governing such behavior must be changed and toughened. The sexual exploitation and abuse of minors is a reflection on the relative health of the society as a whole. The news this past weekend doesn’t bode well for the present state of affairs.

What’s Going on with the Metal-on-Metal Hip Failure Rates

The numbers are appalling. The FDA has admitted that it has received more than 11,000 complaints about metal-on-metal artificial hip replacements in the first nine months of 2011. That’s more than the last 3 years combined. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that these types of hip replacements have a failure rate that is 3 times that of other types of hip replacements.
So, the real question is-why have the medical device companies marketed these new supposedly better hips when the old hips were working just fine? If you ask officials at the medical device companies, they’ll tell you that the metal-on-metal hips were designed for more active lifestyles and were supposed to last longer than the older ceramic hips. However, none of those claims were ever shown to be accurate. In fact, just the opposite is now closer to the truth.
So, what’s behind the marketing of these metal-on-metal failures? I suspect it comes down to marketing dollars and cents (notice, I didn’t say sense since there’s no sense to be made of this decision). In order to increase their market share, medical device companies who sell artificial hips have to grow their market share in order to increase their profit margins. They are always looking for what’s better, newer, more marketable. The interests of the patient aren’t part of that equation.
The medical device industry has to be forced to changed. There is just too much money to be gained and lost. The device companies won’t change unless they are forced to do it.

Catholic Bishop Indicted for Failure to Report Child Abuse

Bishop Robert Finn, Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has been indicted by a grand jury on criminal counts of failing to report child abuse. The Bishop’s indictment marks the first time in the United States that a current bishop has been charged criminally for his failure to report his knowledge of the sexual abuse of a minor.
The indictment should not be altogether surprising given the manner in which Bishop Finn flaunted the civil law in a sexual abuse case involving one of his own priests, Fr. Shawn Ratigan who remains in jail on criminal charges relating to computer child pornography. The Catholic Diocese has also been named as a defendant in civil sex abuse lawsuits concerning Ratigan’s alleged involvement with minors in his parish in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
According to multiple media reports, Finn was warned a year prior to Ratigan’s arrest by a Catholic nun who became concerned with Ratigan’s behavior and his attention to children. She sent a letter to the Bishop who said he never read the letter. Finn didn’t bother to inform his own Diocesan Review Board concerning allegations about Ratigan. Finally, when the police arrested him this past May, Finn’s lack of action came to the forefront.

British Study Reveals Hip Replacement Failures on Rise

A new study from the United Kingdom reveals what we’ve already suspected-namely that patients experiencing hip replacement failures and pain from their hip medical devices are on the rise. Unfortunately, no such data is available to us in the United States because we don’t have a medical registry database from which we can cull such valuable information. However, we can extrapolate from the British study and conclude the situation is no different in the United States. Such a conclusion is strengthened given the FDA’s acknowledgment that they’ve received more complaints about hip failures in the past six months than they did in the combined four year period previous to this year.
While most of the attention has been focused on the metal-on-metal hip devices that are causing problems and are failing at a high rate, there are still cases involving the Zimmer Durom cup. These Zimmer hips were never recalled but Zimmer patients continue to complain about pain and mobility issues with the Durom cup hip implants.

Bishop Accountability and the Priest Abuse Crisis

One might be tempted to think political science has nothing to do with the Catholic Church and the ongoing priest abuse crisis which has gripped the Church for nearly a decade now. If you read George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressivesyou’ll find what I believe is the key to understanding why the Catholic bishops have been relatively unaccountable for their role in the abuse scandal.
One of Lakoff’s main ideas concern the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats in terms of governing style and the role of government in the lives of ordinary individuals. Lakoff believes that the Republicans have been successful in framing the debate about social issues because they use positive imagery to express their ideas. Take for instance the following: pro-life, death tax, and tax relief. Secondly, Republicans believe in the “strict father” model of governance. They’ve adhered to a model that demonstrates their belief that ordinary citizens seek a strict father figure who is always right and serves as a compass for the entire populace.
If you look closely, the Catholic bishops in the United States have adopted a similar approach. They speak authoritatively on many moral issues while at the same time questioning the authority of those who would call into question their actions concerning the abuse crisis. They are very quick to remind Catholics of their duty to obey and listen to them for, after all, they are the appointed shepherds of Christ and that role demands an unquestioning fidelity, not an openness to consider diverse points of view or alternative methods of accountability.
Perhaps that’s how the bishops have escaped any real accountability for their role in the priest abuse crisis. Yes, of course, Cardinal Law was forced to resign. Yet, apart from that incident, how many other bishops have been forced to resign? How many have faced real criminal charges? How many have been called to account for their actions with real consequences hanging in the balance?
Maybe a few bishops have read Lakoff’s book. If they have, they’ve followed his prescription to a tee. It’s proven helpful to them in avoiding any real accountability.

Catholic Priest Abuse and the Philadelphia Grand Jury

Since Common Pleas Judge Lillian Ransom has lifted her ban on the publication of Philadelphia Grand Jury documents concerning Monsignor William Lynn’s testimony, the media has been reviewing his testimony in anticipation of his pending criminal trial for child endangerment. What they’ve found reveals much about the inner workings of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the mindset of the priest in charge of reviewing and investigating sexual abuse claims for the then Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia Anthony Bevilacqua.
In one of his comments, Lynn told the grand jury, “”I just thought he wanted money,” in response to a sexual abuse survivor’s allegation that he had been molested by a priest.
Between 2002 and 2004, Monsignor Lynn made 14 appearances before the grand jury. His testimony is now a matter of public record and among 2,000 pages of grand jury evidence that will play a role in his criminal trial. Lynn’s callous disregard for the welfare of abuse survivors coupled with his protestations that the Vatican made his job difficult will also be on display during the criminal trial. In testimony during which Lynn couldn’t come up with a plausible answer for not doing something to protect children he would answer that the matter “fell through the cracks”. In another instance Lynn stated, “”Like any family, church family, you don’t always put all your dirty laundry out, so to speak.”
One of his colleagues who was also summoned to testify before the grand jury had similar difficulty explaining the Archdiocese’s lack of willingness to protect children. In one instance, now Bishop Cullen was pressed by the prosecutor regarding the veracity of one report. This is back and forth: “When the Rev. Robert L. Brennan was accused of misconduct with boys, the church sent him to a hospital for treatment. Parishioners were told he was on a religious retreat.
Asked about the cover story, Cullen conceded, “It’s not the truth.”
It was a lie, wasn’t it? prosecutors asked.
“You could call it that,” Cullen said.
Philadelphia, like Boston and Los Angeles before, is an archdiocese in extreme crisis. Perhaps they could take comfort with familiar words “The Truth will Set You Free”. However, it won’t be painless or easy.