Sunday, April 20, 2008

It’s a Puzzlement

What is it that causes people to get riled up about some things but not about others?

The 9/11 killing of about 3,000 people in 2001 has dominated our domestic politics and foreign policy ever since. Our automobiles kill more people than that every month but nobody seems to mind.

Some years ago it became public that clergy – mainly Catholic – had been sexually abusing youngsters. That made newspaper headlines for months and has cost the church billions in financial settlements with victims. It currently dominates reporting about the Pope’s visit to the U.S. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine reported that preventable medical errors by our health care providers are killing tens of thousands of people every year. That news has been greeted with a big public yawn.

I was reminded of all this by a book review sent to me some months ago by friend and former fellow parishioner Chuck Kleber. The book, titled Overtreated, was written by Shannon Brownlee and is based to considerable extent on the work of Dr. Jack Wenneberg. One of Wenneberg’s early findings some forty years ago was that in Middlebury, Vermont, 7 percent of children had their tonsils removed. In Morrisville, Vermont, 70 percent did. Being unable through further study to find that the children in Morrisville were either sicker or healthier than those in Middlebury, he finally concluded that the difference could only be attributed to the practice patterns of the physicians involved.

Dr. Wenneberg has been researching and publishing on this subject ever since, repeating similar findings time after time.

Author Brownlee is quoted as concluding that “We spend between one fifth and one third of our health care dollars on care that does nothing to improve our health.” You would think that people would be alarmed by that.

Apparently not so. Have you heard any of the presidential candidates mention it?

It’s a puzzlement.

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