73 Catholic schools in Washington end religious vaccine exemptions

skynesher/iStock(SEATTLE) — The Archdiocese of Seattle ended religious vaccine exemptions for students in its 73 private Catholic schools across Washington state.

The new policy, which affects 22,000 students, will allow students to claim exemptions only for medical reasons. All other students must be vaccinated to attend school.

Less than 2% of those students currently claim a non-medical exemption, according to the archdiocese.

“It’s great that the schools and the church are standing up for vaccines,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

The new policy goes into effect on January 1, but students have a grace period that extends until the end of the academic year to get vaccinated. Reasons for medical exemptions might include experiencing a severe allergic reaction after a previous vaccine or being immunocompromised.

2019 has been a crippling year for measles in the United States, with more than 1,200 cases, the most since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York City suffered a major measles outbreak this year, its worst in nearly three decades, and the national as a whole barely held on to its coveted measles elimination status.

The return of the highly infectious disease is indicative of a larger trend. During the past year, the United Kingdom, Greece, Venezuela and Brazil have all lost their measles elimination status, in part, due to misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.

“We’re in this new normal,” Hotez said. “The CDC feels that we’ve escaped calling off measles elimination, but I think it’s relevant that we still have large pockets of kids who are not vaccinated.”

“And in Europe,” he added. “It’s widespread.”

In response to the U.S. outbreaks, New York, California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia, have banned all non-medical vaccine exemptions.

While some Catholics believe that receiving a vaccine grown in a fetal cell would make them complicit in an abortion, the Catholic Church is not opposed to immunizations.

“Since this is the official position of the Catholic Church, and Catholic Schools reflect Catholic teachings, we decided it was time to update our policy,” said Helen McClenahan, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, who has four kids currently enrolled in Catholic schools.

Not everyone is happy about the new vaccine policy.

A group of 20 protesters, led by Jena Dalpez, the program director of Informed Choice Washington, an anti-vaccine group, gathered earlier in the week to fight the decision.

“This policy strips parents of their constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion,” said Dalpez, adding that individuals should be able to make their own medical decisions. While she doesn’t have kids attending Catholic schools, Dalpez said families she’s spoken with say they would rather pull their kids out of school than vaccinate them.

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Quadriplegic man walks with an exoskeleton he controls with his brain

iStock(PARIS) — A quadriplegic man was able to move his arms and walk using an exoskeleton controlled by signals sent from his brain and a harness suspended from the ceiling, French researchers said in a new study.

The research centered on a 28-year-old man who was paralyzed from the shoulders down, and his first steps and arm movements were the culmination of a two-year project that was published in The Lancet Neurology journal on Thursday.

An exoskeleton allowed him to move all four of his paralyzed limbs by recording and then decoding his brain signals.

“Ours’ is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed for long term use to activate all four limbs,” Alim-Louis Benabid, the executive board president of the biomedical research center Clinatec and a professor emeritus at the University of Grenoble in France, said in a statement announcing the findings.

“Previous brain-computer studies have used more invasive recording devices implanted beneath the outermost membrane of the brain, where they eventually stop working,” he added. “They have also been connected to wires, limited to creating movement in just one limb, or have focused on restoring movement to patients’ own muscles.”

The mind-controlled exoskeleton works by implanting recording devices into the patient and collecting brain signals. These signals were then sent through a decoding algorithm that translated the signals into the movements. From there, it sent the movement commands to the exoskeleton to carry them out.

Over the two years of the study, the patient trained the device to understand an increasing number of his thoughts, thus increasing the number of movement commands it could pick up simply from his brain signals.

“Our findings could move us a step closer to helping tetraplegic patients to drive computers using brain signals alone, perhaps starting with driving wheelchairs using brain activity instead of joysticks and progressing to developing an exoskeleton for increased mobility,” Stephan Chabardes, neurosurgeon from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Grenoble of Grenoble-Alpes, France, added in a statement.

While researchers warned that the device is still a long way from becoming widely available, the early findings offered hope that it could have the potential to improve paralyzed patients’ quality of life and independence.

Researchers say their next step is to figure out how to let the patient walk without requiring the harness.

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Supreme Court to hear Louisiana abortion case

Casimiro/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday added abortion rights to its docket for the new term, agreeing to hear a challenge to a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The case, which will likely be scheduled for oral arguments in early 2020, will be the first involving abortion for the court’s new majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents, including President Donald Trump’s two nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

It also comes amid a crush of state laws passed over the last two years aimed at sharply restricting — or outright banning — abortion, many with the express expectation that legal challenges may end up before the high court.

The Louisiana law, signed in 2014, requires “that every physician who performs or induces an abortion shall ‘have active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.'”

Admitting privileges allow a physician to practice medicine at a given hospital. Doctors are usually required to apply for the privileges and meet qualifications set forth by the facility. Critics of the Louisiana law say the requirement is costly, burdensome and likely to drive many abortion providers out of business, which in turn will severely limit women’s access to the procedure.

Louisiana only has three licensed abortion clinics. Supporters of the law say the state has the right to regulate the clinics to ensure safety.

In February, the court granted one clinic’s request for an emergency stay of the law while the case proceeds. The 5-4 decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined with members of the court’s liberal wing, signaled the court’s willingness to take up the case.

“The Supreme Court rightfully refused to uphold a brazen and unconstitutional attempt to ignore identical cases that are intended to shutter abortion clinics in the state,” said lyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, at the time.

In 2016, the Supreme Court rejected a similar law in Texas that required doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and mandated that abortion clinics meet state requirements for licensed surgical centers. The majority, in a 5-3 decision, said the law created an “undue burden” on women seeking access to abortion.

“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the court’s opinion. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”

The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled, however, that Louisiana’s 2014 law is substantively different from the Texas measure and should be upheld because it does not “impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women” in the state.

“The question is: has the chief justice been convinced that the Texas opinion is controlling,” said Tom Goldstein, a constitutional lawyer and co-founder of SCOTUSblog. “I would say that this case will probably stand for the proposition that conservative, pro-life organizations do need to take care in the precise cases they bring to the court.”

Opponents of abortion rights have been pushing state legislatures to adopt bold, sweeping restrictions on the procedure — fully expecting legal challenges — with an aim of giving the Supreme Court an opportunity to take them up and revisit the precedent set by the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

Through July 2019, states have enacted 58 new abortion restriction laws this year — 26 of which would ban all or most abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Louisiana in May enacted a so-called “heartbeat” bill that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The bill was signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“It’s extremely unlikely that any of the bans will make it to SCOTUS this year,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jennifer Dalven. “But they don’t need to take up a ban case to place limits on Roe.”

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