A quick catch-up on news related to health and medicine from the tail end of the year of the rat, with nary a mention of the C-word:
- The government has approved a plan that would require many people aged 75 and over to pay 20% of their health care costs out of pocket, doubling what they currently pay. What’s wrong with asking older people of means to shoulder a larger share? According to one doctor who quit in disgust at the system, that justification springs from a basic understanding that the health insurance system is fair, when, in fact, it isn’t, as Philip Brasor explains in Media Mix.
- Two doctors were arrested on suspicion of murder in the summer after they helped a woman in Kyoto with a neurological disease fulfill her wish to die. The case put medically assisted suicide in the media spotlight in a sensational way, but the ensuing coverage only served to highlight how a frank discussion of the issue has yet to emerge in Japan, writes Brasor in another column.
- In the 1970s, photojournalist Aileen Mioko Smith helped raise awareness about the discovery of a neurological disease in Kumamoto Prefecture caused by industrial mercury poisoning. Half a century later, as highlighted in the new movie “Minamata,” a lack of government and corporate responsibility remains an issue as Minamata disease victims continue to fight for their right to a fair financial settlement. And Smith is still pressing for answers, writes Matthew Hernon.
- A project to make induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells promptly and widely available at lower cost begins next year in Kyoto under the watchful eye of Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, Jiji reports. The My iPS Project will create iPS cells, which can change into any type of cell, out of material from patients themselves to avoid rejection when a transplant is performed. The project will realize the “ideal use” of iPS cells, Yamanaka says, for 1,000 patients per year at ¥1 million a pop.
- The global tobacco industry has aggressively lobbied governments during the current, er, global health crisis to expand markets and blunt measures designed to curb their business, a report from watchdog groups aligned with the World Health Organization says. The study released last month ranks 57 countries based on their willingness to keep Big Tobacco at bay. Guess which developed country in Asia comes bottom of the class, alongside Indonesia.