Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


UCare generously supports MinnPost’s Second Opinion coverage; learn why.

Minnesota experts name the most significant health-related events of 2011

To mark the end of the year, I asked several of Minnesota’s medical and public-health experts to describe the most significant event (“good” or “bad”) in their field of expertise in 2011. Here’s what they chose:


Dr. Steven Miles
Dr. Steven Miles

From Dr. Steven Miles, professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School:

Perennial issues gave medical ethics its share of media attention in 2011. There were more scandals about how pharmaceutical and medical device companies sell products by overstating benefits, concealing harms, or using clinician payola to build markets. Fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars have no effect. Criminal action is contemplated. Congress holds hearings: zzzzzzzz. 

The abortion debate had its ripple effects. The Obama administration refused to allow the morning-after pill to go over-the-counter to women under 17, who must make a decision, find a clinic, and get a prescription in less than 72 hours from the time of unprotected sex.

Congress continues to insist on a pro-life military even though at least one in three of women is sexually assaulted. Mississippi rejected a bill saying “life begins at conception” that would have made much in-vitro-fertilization and research on some stem cells illegal.

The much-maligned ObamaCare has made it illegal for health insurers to play “Tag! You’re out!” with pre-existing conditions. Two and a half million more 19- to 25-year-olds have insurance. The health insurance industry is struggling under the onerous new rule that they must pay out 80-85 percent of insurance premiums for health care. (Casinos pay out 96 percent.) 

And who can forget Minnesota’s own Michele Bachmann’s wide-eyed lie that she met a mom who had a child who got “mental retardation” from the cancer preventing HPV vaccine.

Infectious Diseases

Michael Osterholm
Michael Osterholm

From Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:

It’s back; H5N1 influenza, or as most know it, bird flu. This is an influenza virus that continues to cause serious illness in poultry and wild birds in Asia, Africa and Europe. Occasionally humans become infected from close contact with sick birds. Over the past 8 years, 336 of 573 reported human H5N1 infection cases have died. The major concern among public health officials is that the H5N1 virus will change genetically to allow it to be readily transmitted to and by humans. With the high mortality rate for current human cases, even a “milder form” of H5N1 infection could cause a catastrophic influenza pandemic that would be much worse than even the 1918 swine flu pandemic. In the 1918 pandemic it is estimated that up to 2% of the population died. 

Now researchers in the Netherlands and University of Wisconsin have reported altering genetic components of the H5N1 virus such that it can be readily transmitted between ferrets (an animal model highly predictive of how influenza viruses will act in humans) and it kills 60 to 80 percent of the ferrets. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (of which I am a member) has recommended the manuscripts describing this work not be published with full details so as to not allow individuals or groups who would use this virus as bioweapon a road map for how to make it. The news of this seminal event in life sciences is unfolding this very week. Stay tuned as this situation will play out over the months ahead. At the very least we know Mother Nature could make these same genetic changes to the H5N1 virus. This could be the cause of our next influenza pandemic; a daunting thought.

Environmental Health

Kathleen Schuler
Kathleen Schuler

From Kathleen Schuler, co-director of the Healthy Legacy campaign and a senior analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:

This year brought big news on bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to adverse health effects like cancer, infertility, diabetes, obesity and ADHD. While use of BPA has largely been phased out of water bottles and baby bottles, exposure to BPA in the epoxy resin that lines food cans is still widespread. A new study found BPA in foods consumed by children, like SpaghettiOs. Another study detected BPA in canned foods commonly consumed at Thanksgiving, like pumpkin, green beans and gravy. A Harvard study found that volunteers who consumed canned soup daily for five days had a 1,000 percent increase in urinary BPA. 

Another study illustrates the power of prevention: Families that ate a fresh-food, packaging-free diet for three days reduced their urinary levels of BPA by 66 percent. A key question is how do we translate this new science into public health policy to prevent exposures to BPA?

Women’s Reproductive Health

Sarah Stoesz
Planned Parenthood
Sarah Stoesz

From Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota:

The federal government nearly shut down in early April — not over job creation, not over the economy — but over continuing to allow low-income women access to basic health care. Majority lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives not only attempted to zero out the federal Title X program, but specifically targeted Planned Parenthood in an unprecedented attempt to ban federal funding for patients of the nation’s largest provider of preventive health care — the women and families who are among the nation’s most vulnerable people. In the end, we were able to hold the line, preserve funding for Planned Parenthood’s patients and save the nation’s family planning program.

Title X has helped millions of women nationwide plan their families since its inception more than 40 years ago. Women rely on Planned Parenthood’s Title X supported clinics for basic preventive care such a life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, pap tests and health education. Planned Parenthood’s 20 clinics throughout metropolitan, suburban and rural Minnesota served 52,482 patients with Title X funding in 2010, the vast majority of them women over age 18 at or below federal poverty level.

Title X clinics are part of the fabric of the communities they serve and are some women’s only access to health care. Saving Title X meant saving women’s health and lives — in Minnesota and across the country.

Sleep Medicine

Dr. Michel A. Cramer Bornemann
Dr. Michel A. Cramer Bornemann

From Dr. Michel A. Cramer Bornemann, staff physician at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, Hennepin County Medical Center:

The most significant development in sleep medicine in 2011 involves Superintendent Valeria Silva of St. Paul Public Schools with her initiative entitled “Strong Schools, Strong Communities.” In this initiative, Superintendent Silva continues her onslaught to erode the health of thousands of St. Paul’s school children by promoting her program to advance school start times with its subsequent early busing routes. In doing so, she continues to neglect years, if not decades, of absolutely compelling clinical and scientific evidence that directly link the effects of acute and chronic sleep deprivation to decrements in daytime performance, memory consolidation, alertness, and mood, as well as its association with a growing litany of negative health consequences such as obesity, childhood diabetes and depression. 

Furthermore, by pushing her own agenda, Superintendent Silva neglects that advancing school start times is not associated with an advance in a child’s sleep onset time but is only associated with less sleep. This, in turn, is associated with aggressive and delinquent behavior, as well as social problems.  Thus, this direct assault on the health and development of our society’s most valuable asset, our children, is in direct opposition to both commonly accepted scientific knowledge — and common sense.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Wayne Rohde on 12/26/2011 - 03:05 pm.

    Dr. Miles. You missed the mark again on the Gardasil vaccine issue. You put up a $1,000.00 bounty for proof that someone was MR because of the vaccine. Yet, you know that several children died this year alone from Gardasil and hundreds more are confined to wheelchairs.

    You might want to look at who is funding your department. Make the connection to NIH and Merck like your buddy Art Caplan. Who is the manufacturer of Gardasil? Merck.

    I will personally match your $1,000.00 if you can prove those who died this year from Gardsil died from causes other than Gardasil.

  2. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/26/2011 - 03:43 pm.

    Wayne (#1). Dr. Miles will probably reply, but I’d suggest you also see for yourself what the Centers for Disease Control said about this vaccine on October 24.

    92 percent of “adverse events” were mild, such as soreness at the injection site; 8 percent were serious, but there is no way the CDC can tell if the vaccines are at fault. All they can prove is that bad things happened at some time after the 8 percent were vaccinated.

    “In the 34 reports [of deaths] confirmed, there was no unusual patterning or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine and some reports indicated a cause of death unrelated to vaccination.”

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/26/2011 - 05:56 pm.

    Mr. Rohde,
    Could you furnish the links to the sources and research data which supports your claims?

    /As of September 15, 2011, there have been a total 71 VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) reports of death among those who have received Gardasil®. There were 57 reports among females, 3 were among males, and 11 were reports of unknown gender. Thirty four of the total death reports have been confirmed and 37 remain unconfirmed due to no identifiable patient information in the report such as a name and contact information to confirm the report. A death report is confirmed (verified) after a medical doctor reviews the report and any associated records. In the 34 reports confirmed, there was no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine and some reports indicated a cause of death unrelated to vaccination./

  4. Submitted by Nancy Hokkanen on 12/26/2011 - 10:58 pm.

    Demyelinating disease and polyvalent human papilloma virus vaccination
    J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry doi:10.1136/jnnp.2010.214924

    We encountered two cases whose initial presentation of CNS demyelination followed in close time relationship the administration of Gardasil vaccine and we discuss their possible association.

    Meningococcal and Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine Associate Recurrent Acute Disseminated Enchephalomyelitis
    Juan Carlos Muniz, MD, Stanley Krolczyk, DO, RPH; Lise Casady, ARNP, University of South Florida

    A report of five cases of CNS demyelination after quadrivalent human papilloma virus vaccination: could there be any relationship?
    26th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) & 15th Annual Conference of Rehabilitation in MS (RIMS) 13.10.2010 – 16.10.2010

    Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis with tumefactive lesions after vaccination against human papillomavirus
    Neurología. 2010;25(1):58-69

    Bilateral Papilledema Following Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Case Report
    J Med Cases • 2011;2(5):222-224

    Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis Following Vaccination Against Human Papilloma Virus
    American Academy of Neurology, Neurology 2009;72:2132–2133.

  5. Submitted by Jerri Johnson on 12/27/2011 - 08:29 am.

    Dr. Miles, After Michelle Bachmann reported the mother’s statement about her daughter’s retardation following Gardasil administration, her office was deluged with calls from parents asking her to tell their daughter’s story. We need to listen to those stories and take them seriously.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/27/2011 - 11:26 am.

    Question: Does MinnPost’s new rules of civility apply to opinions of the “experts” it enlists?

    For instance, Dr. Miles refers to an “open-eyed lie”, of a subject for which the veracity has never been proven or disproven. Surely someone as educated as Dr. Miles can think of a way to get his political views included without the use of coarse ad hominum.

    Also, while avoiding disparaging labels in keeping with the civility rules, I’d like to know if by “pro-life military” Dr. Miles means to suggest that female members of the military are forbidden from aborting their children.

  7. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/27/2011 - 04:46 pm.

    #6: I would just point out that the phrase “aborting their children” appears to assign “personhood” to an unborn fetus. And we know how that idea fared in the news in Mississippi recently.

    As to whether members of the military get medical coverage for abortions – I believe the Hyde Amendment prohibits payment for that particular surgery (someone correct me if I’m wrong).

    #5: Does anyone know if these mothers are reporting their experiences into the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System? And if not, why not? After all, how is ANYONE expected to become aware of these situations on a non-anecdotal level if those affected aren’t sharing the information with agencies that are actually empowered to do something about it?

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/28/2011 - 09:46 am.

    Pat, you’re free to mince words, but I think every woman that undergoes an abortion knows what was torn from her body, whether she chooses to name it anything in particular, or not.

    And you’ll notice, if you choose to read it again, that I didn’t say “provide medical coverage”, and neither did Dr. Miles. I think you know that, but decided to play Dr. Miles’ word game, which is of course your call.

    But I wonder if fans of abortion realize that the careful mincing of verbage they must always practice when discussing the focus of their efforts gives lie to their story.

  9. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/28/2011 - 04:56 pm.

    Will all the “fans of abortion” here present please raise their hands and say “Aye!”

    (sounds of crickets ensues)

    I thought so . . . . . . .

  10. Submitted by Roger Forsberg on 12/30/2011 - 05:51 pm.

    “…And who can forget Minnesota’s own Michele Bachmann’s wide-eyed lie that she met a mom who had a child who got “mental retardation” from the cancer preventing HPV vaccine.” — Dr Steven Miles

    There are many, many people that read comments to the Minnpost columns who parse the sentences therein with extraordinary & exceeding care — especially the sentences of others who are not in lockstep with their political beliefs. Thus, I believe that it’s important for us to apply those same standards ALSO to contributors such as Dr Steven Miles.

    I’m no Michele Bachmann fan, but it’s completely reasonable to believe that she met a mom who told her (Bachmann) that she (the mom) ‘…had a child who got “mental retardation” from the cancer preventing HPV vaccine.’

    The notion that the child got “mental retardation” from the HPV vaccine may be completely, totally & irredeemably erroneous. However, that’s not what Dr Steven Miles wrote.

    Dr Miles’ written statement reflects poorly on his professional judgment in adding his written comments to this column. I would not want to suggest that his statement was advertently libelous, but it could be judged by many (including me) as being gratuitously disparaging.

  11. Submitted by Steve Miles on 12/31/2011 - 04:58 pm.

    As a New Year special I respond to my critics.
    I put up a $1000 for the medical record of the child Ms. Bachmann referred to. That record was not forthcoming. I recognize several of the anti-vaccine people here as also participating in an effort that was responsible for a large outbreak of Measles in Minnesota this past year. This outbreak included as many cases as in the last ten years and resulted in hospitalizations and one seriously damaged child. The misinformation campaign was targeted at an ethnic community and the prevalence is all the more remarkable because of the number of cases in a small group. I am waiting for their abject apology.
    I said “wide eyed” not “open eyed.” Even Ms. Bachmann says she has no idea if her claim was true. It is a lie to say that a child got “mental retardation” from the HPV vaccine.

  12. Submitted by Roger Forsberg on 01/01/2012 - 08:52 pm.

    “As a New Year special I respond to my critics.” — Steven Miles, MD

    In answer to Dr Miles’ generous New Year’s response, and in recognition of the fact that he is recipient of the “National Council of Teachers of English’ George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language” I will suggest the following precept to him in the spirit of Platonic dialogue: referring to someone in print as lying, or being a liar, or even being the source of ‘wide-eyed’ lie, is very likely unwise & imprudent — unless one knows with great confidence, clarity & rigor that the person is, in fact, lying.

    I suggest this to Dr Miles NOT because it’s my opinion (although I happen to believe it to be true), OR because I believe that ignoring this principle coarsens or dehumanizes public discourse (which I also believe to be true), OR because the meaning of the expression “wide-eyed” will be understood by only a very few speakers of English (he & I are two of them), but because of the PRINCIPLE OF CHARITY developed by a metaphysician named N L Wilson in the 1950s. This principle reads (in part)…

    “When interpreting another speaker, especially (although not necessarily) of an unknown language, we should make those assumptions about his/her intelligence, knowledge, intention, sense of relevance, etc., that will make the most of what s/he says come out true….” {NOTE: I added the ‘gender-free’ pronouns.]

    in other words, this principle constrains the interpreter (in this case, Dr Miles) to maximize the truth or rationality in the subject’s (in this case, Michele Bachmann’s) statements.

    I humbly present the above comments to Dr Miles, a man of obvious learning, accomplishment & good will, hoping that he will understand unambiguously that I offer them in good faith — and that he will know without question that there are scores of Minnpost commenters who are MUCH greater offenders of this principle than he (Dr Miles).

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/02/2012 - 11:47 am.

    “I said “wide eyed” not “open eyed.”

    Yes sir, you did. And, given my response you’d think I take more care with words when dealing with someone as skilled in dicing them up as finely as you.

    I stand completely corrected on the difference between “wide eyed” and “open eyed” accusations of lying. In that spirit, I recommend a thorough reading of Mr. Foresberg’s observations of lying itself, maintaining a focus on comprehension.

  14. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/02/2012 - 03:03 pm.

    “Jerry just remember; It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

    George Costanza

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/02/2012 - 05:51 pm.

    I have to go with the trained Medical professional on this one. Pseudo and anecdotal science …not-so-much.

  16. Submitted by Steve Miles on 01/02/2012 - 08:59 pm.

    Mr Forsberg. She lied in that she had no idea if the statement was true. She lied when she repeated it. It was a “wide-eyed” lie as per the dictionary definition: “Adj. 1.wide-eyed – exhibiting childlike simplicity and credulity; “childlike trust”; “dewy-eyed innocence”” I did not in the spirit of the incharity of Rush Limbaugh call it her “jumping the shark” moment (although it was.)
    I like the Wilson essay but note he says: “we should make those assumptions about his/her intelligence, knowledge, intention, sense of relevance, etc., that will make the MOST [NB: NOT ALL} of what s/he says come out true” Wilson, living in an age of demagogues, would surely have recognized the importance of calling attention to the exceptions.

  17. Submitted by Roger Forsberg on 01/03/2012 - 08:57 am.

    “Mr Forsberg. She lied in that she had no idea if the statement was true. She lied when….”

    For the record, I cannot claim to have been there [at the Bachmann event], and as I indicated initially she offers very little political appeal (to me). I have access only to newspaper or blog accounts, i.e., to what evidentiary experts would refer to as second-hand, third-hand, or hearsay reports. I certainly have no extrasensory ability to gaze into the hearts and minds of others to judge the veracity or the intentions of their current or past statements. And, I believe that the prescriptions in Prof N L Wilson’s disquisition about “The Principle of Charity” allow for some reasonable “latitude of interpretation in good faith” (my expression).

    So, in this particular instance, Dr Miles, as long as you have made your judgments in good faith it’s “as you choose.”

Leave a Reply