Radiolab Podcast: Playing God. Modern Day Trolley Car Problems in Medicine

“When people are dying and you can only save some, how do you choose? Maybe you save the youngest. Or the sickest. Maybe you even just put all the names in a hat and pick at random. Would your answer change if a sick person was standing right in front of you?

“In this episode, we follow New York Times reporter Sheri Fink as she searches for the answer. In a warzone, a hurricane, a church basement, and an earthquake, the question remains the same. What happens, what should happen, when humans are forced to play god?”

Homeopathy effective for 0 out of 68 illnesses, study finds

“The review found “no discernible convincing effects beyond placebo” and concluded “there was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered”. ”

Is Cold Medicine a Waste of Time?

“A 2009 study that will sound especially sinister to anyone who suffers from allergies put 39 patients with a grass allergy into a sealed room called the “Vienna Challenge Chamber.” Then, the scientists piped in grass pollen. The people were given phenylephrine, a sugar pill or another decongestant called pseudoephedrine. Phenylephrine did no better than the placebo, while pseudoephedrine — which must be obtained by going to the pharmacist’s counter — beat them both.”

Why are placebos getting more effective?

“When new drugs are put on the market, clinical trials determine whether they perform better than inactive pills known as “placebos”. Research shows that over the last 25 years the difference in effectiveness between real drugs and these fake ones has narrowed – but more in the US than elsewhere. Are Americans really more susceptible to placebo effects, or is something else going on?”

The American Medical Association is finally taking a stand on quacks like Dr. Oz

The issue of has taken on increasing significance of late. Wrapped up in this issue are several key issues:

  • What is the role of professional organizations and authorities in enforcing certain practices and ethical standards?
  • How do we define and distinguish between science and pseudoscience?
  • What does “evidence based” practice mean?
  • How do we determine “truth” in the natural sciences and in particular, the medical sciences?
  • Upon what should ethical standards in medicine be based? How should those standards be enforced? Who should do the enforcing?

“The AMA will look at creating ethical guidelines for physicians in the media, write a report on how doctors may be disciplined for violating medical ethics through their press involvement, and release a public statement denouncing the dissemination of dubious medical information through the radio, TV, newspapers, or websites.”

A Lasting Gift to Medicine That Wasn’t Really a Gift

“The story began in January 1951, when Mrs. Lacks was found to have cervical cancer. She was treated with radium at Johns Hopkins, the standard of care in that day, but there was no stopping the cancer. Her doctor had never seen anything like it. Within months, her body was full of tumors, and she died in excruciating pain that October. She was 31 and left five children, the youngest just a year old. She had been a devoted mother, and the children suffered terribly without her.”