Physicians, Heal Thyselves

In Activism, Ethanol by Cindy

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) appears to have publicly taken the position that production of biofuels is killing people.

According to a release sent today by AAPS, U.S. and European biofuels policies have “added to the global burden of death and disease.”

Increased production of biofuels increases the price of food worldwide by diverting crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles. Higher food prices, in turn, condemn more people to chronic hunger and “absolute poverty” (defined as income less than $1.25 per day). But hunger and poverty are leading causes of premature death and excess disease worldwide. Therefore, higher biofuel production would increase death and disease.

This giant leap of logic was made by Dr. Indur Goklany in an analysis published in the spring 2011 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Most of his assumptions are based on 2008-09 World Bank working papers that have since been refuted by 2010 World Bank working paper conclusions regarding the impact biofuels had on food prices in 2008. Goklany qualifications are that he was “associated with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) off and on over a 20-year period as an author, expert reviewer, and U.S. delegate.”

Based on a 2009 paper
that predicts “the increase in biofuels production over 2004 levels would push more than 35 million additional people into absolute poverty in 2010” Goklany determines that this would lead to “at least 192,000 excess deaths per year, plus disease resulting in the loss of 6.7 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) per year,” which is more than what the World Health Organization attributes to global warming – and you have to wonder how WHO attributes deaths to global warming!

It is difficult to wrap my mind around how people and/or organizations come up with theories and equations to quantify the amount and causes of human suffering, and I have a real hard time figuring out why the AAPS sent this release. According to their website, the AAPS is a “national organization of physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to protect the practice of private medicine and the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship.” Perhaps their reasoning is because they, as physicians, are concerned about the health costs of hunger and poverty – although it says nothing about any particular political position regarding biofuels that they take as an organization. Neither biofuels nor even poverty are listed on the AAPS issues page, although they are concerned about healthcare reform, illegal immigration, medical privacy and ethics.

I found a blog written by a surgeon who has done work in Kenya, which is titled “Physician, Heal Thyself.” His description says the title of the blog “alludes to a biblical verse (Luke 4:23), but also reminds me to examine my motivations, perceptions, and biases from time to time.” AAPS might take that advice.