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Health Highlights: Sept. 27, 2003

Woman on Trial for Son's Suicide Leading Journal Tightens Disclosure Rules Audit Finds Phony Fen-Phen Claims Women Must Take Care of Their Hearts, WHO Says Novel Motorized Scooters Being Recalled Many Britons Would Pay to Choose Baby's Sex: Survey

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Woman on Trial for Son's Suicide

A Connecticut woman is on trial in connection with her 12-year-old son's suicide, with prosecutors alleging that she is criminally responsible for not reaching out to help the troubled child.

Judith Scruggs, 52, caught a break Friday when a judge acquitted her of three counts of risk of injury to her son, J. Daniel Scruggs. But the judge also ruled that there was enough evidence to go forward with charges that she created a situation likely to cause injury, according to the Hartford Courant.

Judith Scruggs is the only person charged with the boy's death, but her lawyers have put the school system in the spotlight as well, alleging that J. Daniel was the victim of bullying and that school officials looked the other way.

J. Daniel Scruggs hanged himself with a necktie on Jan. 2, 2002, according to the Courant. His death has prompted an outcry that has led to the creation of several anti-bullying groups.

The paper recounted testimony from a classmate Friday, who told the court that other kids would bully the frail boy "a lot," and that they'd "knock him off the bleachers in gym class and treat him like a piece of dirt."


Leading Journal Tightens Disclosure Rules

The editors of Nature and its several sister journals announced Friday that they would have tighter rules that require contributors to disclose any financial ties they have to a subject they write about.

The New York Times reports that the new rules come in the wake of an embarrassing episode revolving around an article about the treatment of depression. In the article, which appeared in Nature Neuroscience, a researcher at the Emory School of Medicine highly praised three products in which he had major financial ties.

According to the Times, the researcher, Dr. Charles Nemeroff, said he would have disclosed his interests had the journal asked him to. The editors said he violated no policy in place at the time.

The editors announced that there's a need for scientists to disclose all conflicts of interest to protect "the integrity of the scientific enterprise as a whole."


Audit Finds Phony Fen-Phen Claims

Auditors have found that a "huge number" of people who took the diet drug fen-phen did not suffer damage to their heart valves as they have claimed.

The Associated Press reports that administrators for the $3.75 billion trust fund, set up by Wyeth Inc., the recalled drug's maker, has determined some inconsistencies. More than 100,000 people have filed claims stating that fen-phen hurt their hearts.

But payments to hundreds of the claimants have been thrown out after a judge, who saw some sample claims, ordered a full review, according to the AP.

"A huge number were problematic," Richard Scheff, an attorney for the trust fund, told the AP. "There is an enormous task to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff."


Women Must Take Care of Their Hearts, WHO Says

Not enough women are aware that heart attacks and strokes kill twice as many women every year than all form of cancers combined, the World Health Organization revealed Friday.

The combined death toll for heart attacks and strokes is 8.6 million women every year, according to the Associated Press, quoting the organization's statistics.

"Although most women fear cancer, particularly breast cancer, they do not make the same efforts to safeguard themselves from heart disease, which is eminently preventable," says the chief of WHO's noncommunicable disease division, Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus.

Her statement is timed with World Heart Day, which falls on Sunday. The day is devoted to raising awareness that cardiovascular disease is not just a problem for men.

The World Heart Federation also chimed in, noting that most women and even many medical professionals continue to underestimate the severity of cardiac disease among women, the AP reports.


Novel Motorized Scooters Being Recalled

Segway LLC, maker of the Segway Human Transporter, says it's recalling 6,000 of the motorized scooters because some riders have been hurt falling off when the batteries ran low.

The company has three reports of injuries, including one user who required stitches to close a head wound. The firm says riders are particularly prone to the problem if they speed up abruptly, hit an obstacle, or continue to ride despite a low-battery alert, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The recall involves all Segway HT i167 ("i Series"), all e167 ("e Series"), and all p133 ("p Series") models. The highly touted scooters were sold by Segway and authorized dealers from March 2002 through this month.

For more information or to receive a free software upgrade, contact the company toll-free at 1-877-889-9020 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Segway says it also is contacting owners directly.


Many Britons Would Pay to Choose Baby's Sex: Survey

At least 20 percent of Britons would pay more than £1000 to choose their baby's sex, BBC News Online reports of a new survey.

German researchers at the University of Geissen polled more than 1,000 Britons about the theoretical use of gender selection. The vast majority of respondents -- 68 percent -- said they preferred an equal number of boys and girls. This, the researchers noted, casts some doubt on the fear that sex selection could skew the delicate balance in favor of having boys.

Currently, there are certain legal "sperm-sorting" techniques in Britain that could make intentional sex selection possible, the BBC reports.

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