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Rich Deaths December 6, 2005

Posted by decode in Culture, Politics, The World.

I came across the CIA’s World Factbook GDP per capita rankings today. I noticed that one of the statistics listed in the Factbook is infant mortality rate. The definition of this statistic, according to the Factbook itself, is:

This entry gives the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year; included is the total death rate, and deaths by sex, male and female. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country.

So, I went down the GDP per capita rankings and compared the United States with other similarly rich countries. We like to talk about how good our health care is here, but I found some surprising things.

  • The USA has the second highest GDP per capita in the world (Luxembourg is first).
  • The Infant Mortality Rate in the USA is 6.5 deaths/1,000 live births.
  • You have to go down to GDP per capita country #35 (United Arab Emirates) to find a country that isn’t a small island and has a higher infant mortality rate than the United States.
  • Notable countries with lower Infant Mortality Rates than the US: Iceland, Germany, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Taiwan, Spain, Greece, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Cuba
  • The European Union as a whole has a lower infant mortality rate than the US.
  • Middle eastern countries tend to have high infant mortality rates, in relation to similar GDP per capita countries. Example: United Arab Emirates has a GDP per capita of $25,200 and infant mortality rate of 14.51 deaths/1,000 live births. Spain has a GDP per capita of $23,300 and an infant mortality rate of 4.42 deaths/1,000 live births, less than 1/3 of UAE’s. I’d be interested to know what causes this.

I wonder why the US has such bad numbers here. I really can’t come up with a good answer. Most other first world countries have some form of socialized medicine, so I wonder if it is related to that.

Face On December 5, 2005

Posted by decode in Culture.

Joe Shaw has been talking about the recent first face transplant operation. As he notes, the technology and skill to perform such an operation has been around for a while, but it has not been done before due to “ethical issues.” Unfortunately, the CNN article he links to has little information on what these issues are, which makes things somewhat confusing. The BBC has better coverage of this, and the issues were discussed in the Slashdot comments. Basically, it seems to come down to three major issues:

  • The donor must be alive when the transplant is performed. These types of things are usually done on comotose, brain dead patients with no chance of recovery, but there is always the question of whether the person might have a “miraculous recovery” or if there was a misdiagnosis.
  • The patient must take large amounts of immunosuppressive medications for the rest of his or her life. These drugs are necessary to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ, but also make the body much more susceptible to infection. This requires that the good effects of the transplant be weighed against the increased health risks of immunosuppression. For certain transplants, like a heart transplant, it seems obvious that having a working heart is worth the risk of infection. The patient who received the first face transplant mostly had issues with eating and talking (she didn’t have lips to control her food or speech), but was not in physical danger because of those issues. Situations like this make the issue less clear.
  • The effects of doing a face transplant are as yet unknown, since it is so new. It could be that it doesn’t work well (or at all, on the long term), and the patient could end up worse off then he or she started. This is an issue with the “never do harm to anyone” clause in the Hippocratic Oath.

The first issue is common to a number of kinds of transplants, so conclusions there can probably be applied. The third one can only be known by actually doing face transplants and seeing what the results are. The most interesting ethical questions lie in the second issue, which can probably only be answered on a case-by-case basis, making appropriate general policy about the practice difficult to determine.

Non-Violence November 20, 2005

Posted by decode in Culture, Politics.
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In the sermon this morning, the pastor made reference to the increase in violent crime that our culture has to face and deal with. Fortunately, violent crime in the U.S. has been on a decline for over 10 years. Here are US Department of Justice charts and numbers describing these trends:

Violent Crimes
Violent Crimes by Gender
Property Crimes
Firearm Related Crimes

Text summary:

  • The violent crime rate decreased 2.2% from 2003 to 2004. From 1995 to 2004 the rate fell 32.0%.
  • The property crime rate decreased 2.1% from 2003 to 2004. From 1995 to 2004, the rate fell 23.4%.