February 23rd, 2006

"*That's* an idea!"

Personal: More Information on Why My Doctors Have Been As Dangerous As Helpful

February 22, 2006

Why Doctors So Often Get It Wrong

By DAVID LEONHARDT for The New York Times


ON a weekend day a few years ago, the parents of a 4-year-old boy from rural Georgia brought him to a children's hospital here in north Atlanta. The family had already been through a lot. Their son had been sick for months, with fevers that just would not go away.

The doctors on weekend duty ordered blood tests, which showed that the boy had leukemia. There were a few things about his condition that didn't add up, like the light brown spots on the skin, but the doctors still scheduled a strong course of chemotherapy to start on Monday afternoon. Time, after all, was their enemy.

John Bergsagel, a soft-spoken senior oncologist, remembers arriving at the hospital on Monday morning and having a pile of other cases to get through. He was also bothered by the skin spots, but he agreed that the blood test was clear enough. The boy had leukemia.

"Once you start down one of these clinical pathways," Dr. Bergsagel said, "it's very hard to step off."

What the doctors didn't know was that the boy had a rare form of the disease that chemotherapy does not cure. It makes the symptoms go away for a month or so, but then they return. Worst of all, each round of chemotherapy would bring a serious risk of death, since he was already so weak.

With all the tools available to modern medicine — the blood tests and M.R.I.'s and endoscopes — you might think that misdiagnosis has become a rare thing. But you would be wrong. Studies of autopsies have shown that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time. So millions of patients are being treated for the wrong disease.

As shocking as that is, the more astonishing fact may be that the rate has not really changed since the 1930's. "No improvement!" was how an article in the normally exclamation-free Journal of the American Medical Association summarized the situation.

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I See You!

Theological Notebook: New Cardinals

Here I have articles from The New York Times and from Catholic News Service on the new Cardinals to be created at the March 24th consistory. The first article is more focused on Bishop Zen of Hong Kong, the second on Archbishop Levada who was Archbishop of San Francisco and is now the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope Picks 15 Cardinals, One a China Critic

By IAN FISHER and KEITH BRADSHER for The New York Times
February 23, 2006

TURIN, Italy, Feb. 22 — Pope Benedict XVI named his first new cardinals on Wednesday, 15 in all. They include the bishop of Hong Kong, an outspoken critic of China's rulers, and Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston, appointed two years ago after the sex abuse scandal there forced the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law.

The elevation of Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong, who despite his role as a critic has played a leading role in the effort to open diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican, is the latest in a series of signals from Rome that the Roman Catholic Church wants to play a greater role in tending to the spiritual needs of mainland China's 1.3 billion people, Vatican experts said.

The pope made his announcement before a crowd of tourists and pilgrims after the public audience held every Wednesday at the Vatican. He said that in his choices, "the universality of the church is respected."

"They come, in fact, from various parts of the world and they have been charged with diverse duties in the service of the people of God," he said. Indeed his choices include new cardinals from 11 countries, including the Philippines, South Korea, Ghana, Venezuela, Poland, France, Italy and the United States.

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Theological Notebook: A Better-Than-Average Article on the Ongoing Madness

February 22, 2006

Furor Over Cartoons Pits Muslim Against Muslim

and HASSAN M. FATTAH for The New York Times

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 21 — In a direct challenge to the international uproar over cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, the Jordanian journalist Jihad Momani wrote: "What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras, or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony?"

In Yemen, an editorial by Muhammad al-Assadi condemned the cartoons but also lamented the way many Muslims reacted. "Muslims had an opportunity to educate the world about the merits of the Prophet Muhammad and the peacefulness of the religion he had come with," Mr. Assadi wrote. He added, "Muslims know how to lose, better than how to use, opportunities."

To illustrate their points, both editors published selections of the drawings — and for that they were arrested and threatened with prison.

Mr. Momani and Mr. Assadi are among 11 journalists in five countries facing prosecution for printing some of the cartoons. Their cases illustrate another side of this conflict, the intra-Muslim side, in what has typically been defined as a struggle between Islam and the West.

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I See You!

Theological Notebook: On Kurz's Ciszek Lecture

Tonight was a fairly significant theological event on campus. Our most senior scripture scholar, Fr. William S. Kurz, SJ, with whom I've done the bulk of my scriptural work at the doctoral level, gave this year's Annual Ciszek Lecture. As the blurbs read:
“Can a Biblical Scholar Be a Catholic? Searching for Responsible Theological Approaches to Scripture"
Father Kurz shares his personal scholarly journey from graduate studies at Yale until today in search of ways to understand and teach Scripture as an openly confessing Catholic scholar for Catholic believers. He relates the strengths and limitations of historical critical approaches, the excitement and disappointments of literary studies of the Bible, to a forthrightly Catholic Christian reading of Scripture inspired by Church Fathers like Sts. Irenaeus and Athanasius.
Fr. Kurz's lecture was packed, and perhaps there wasn't a whole lot I found particularly new (I have, afterall, been studying these issues with him and others intensely for the last few years), particularly after having worked through his masterful The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation, which he co-wrote with his old Yale doctoral classmate and Emory University professor Luke Timothy Johnson. I've also just informally gotten together with him and other students over the last few years and read scripture together, some of which turned into his newest award-winner, What Does The Bible Say About The End Times?: A Catholic View, which attempts to break the hold that fundamentalist Protestant readings of Revelation (like are found in the Left Behind novels) have on the American imagination. This, too, had helped in familiarizing me with the ideas he shared tonight. Nevertheless, I thought that the presentation itself--as an event--and how it was received by the [admittedly, well-disposed] crowd was still significant. In being as autobiographical in his presentation as he was, he really was representing some of the academic or scholarly "mood" of the last forty years. That is, he wasn't just a scholar: he was also a "sample," as it were--an eyewitness to the process he described of how scholarly trend dramatically affected popular religious (and non- or anti-religious) experience in America over the last five decades. I think that his shift toward finding some way to integrate what's (inaccurately) called "pre-critical" scriptural readings with our historical-critical or even "post-critical" (whatever the hell that really is supposed to mean) readings will be interesting to observe over the next few years. I hope to post a transcript of the talk here shortly.