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Holiday Reading: Manufacturing Killer Flu; The Ironies Of The Individual Mandate; When The Elderly Refuse Help

Every week, reporter Jessica Marcy selects interesting reads from around the Web.

TIME: Should Journals Describe How Scientists Made A Killer Flu?
In experiments conducted at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, researchers engineered a strain of H5N1. … The next logical step would be for the researchers to publish studies in major scientific journals, describing the newly created flu, including its genetic makeup. And that would mean that anyone with the proper scientific training — from another researcher to a terrorist — would likely be able to read the studies and potentially make the new H5N1 themselves. Cognizant of that risk, on Tuesday the U.S. government did an unprecedented thing: it asked scientific journals not to publish the details of the H5N1 experiments, for fear that the information could fall into the wrong hands and be used to create a bioweapon (Walsh, 12/21).

The New Republic: The Mandate Miscalculation
The story of the individual mandate is replete with ironies. (Barack) Obama spent much of the 2008 primary season denouncing the mandate, which Hillary Clinton supported. At the time, Mitt Romney was strongly identified with the idea, which had been central to the reforms he introduced as governor of Massachusetts. Four years later, Romney may be the nominee of a party that abhors the mandate, while Obama now defends it. Yet perhaps the greatest irony has to do with the mandate’s policy merits. Many liberals assume that universal health care requires an individual mandate; but there are arguably better alternatives (Paul Starr, 12/14).

Salon: Why Women Have Second Trimester Abortions
Later abortions are no one’s ideal situation. … But as a new quantitative study from the Guttmacher Institute shows for the first time, most of these women aren’t living in ideal situations – they are likelier to be teens, to have less education and to have more disrupted lives. The stereotype, says Susan Schewel, executive director of the Women’s Medical Fund in Philadelphia, is that women who have second-trimester abortions are “willfully irresponsible. But the women who call our help line are instead women who often are trying to be responsible, but their lives are so difficult. They have so many balls in the air, and more pressing financial needs – for example, housing. They just can’t manage everything” (Irin Carmon, 12/21).

American Medical News: Seven Land Mines Of Hospital Employment Contracts
For some physicians, a job with a hospital is a dream come true. A physician can practice medicine and have a steady paycheck, regular hours and none of the hassles that may come with a solo or small practice. But to make it less likely that this dream will turn into a nightmare, physicians need not only read the contract but also be wary of potential land mines hidden within. … Physicians tend to have more negotiating power when a hospital is trying to attract them rather than after several years of service, analysts said (Victoria Stagg Elliott, 12/19).

AARP Bulletin: The Case Of The Very Difficult Mother
Johnnie’s children and neighbors urged her to get medical help, but she refused. … Johnnie looked “real sick,” according to one EMT, and there was a strong odor of feces and urine. At first, Johnnie would not leave, slapping at a paramedic and knocking off his glasses. Eventually, she agreed to go. When the ambulance personnel picked her up they saw feces, urine, pus and blood in the couch. Johnnie’s gown was covered with feces and urine, and she had bedsores. … After she left the hospital, Johnnie went to live in a nursing home. On March 4, 2002, Stanley and Barbara were charged with one count of cruelty to the infirm. They argued that they did the best they could with their mother, despite her forceful refusals of help and her threatening manner. … Should Barbara and Stanley be charged with cruelty? How would you decide? (Robin Gerber, 12/19).