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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 9, 2001

Federal Judge Blocks Ashcroft's Suicide Directive Doctors Missed First Anthrax Victims' Symptoms Cheese It! Gov't. Wants to Slice Pizza Standards Heart Study Seeking New Recruits

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

Federal Judge Blocks Ashcroft Order Halting Physician-Assisted Suicide

Oregon doctors can prescribe lethal medicines again to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives now that a judge has temporarily blocked a federal order that had essentially shut down the state's unique assisted-suicide law, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones granted a temporary restraining order yesterday that was requested by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, several terminally ill patients and others. The order is effective until Nov. 20.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had warned doctors three days ago that they risk losing their licenses if they prescribe federally controlled drugs to terminally ill patients for anything other than pain management, according to a HealthDay report.

"Federal law supercedes state law and may not be nullified by legislative decisions of individual states," Ashcroft wrote in a new directive to Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) administrator Asa Hutchinson. DEA agents were to monitor and prosecute doctors who violate the directive.

Ashcroft's move reversed a 1998 ruling by his predecessor, Janet Reno, that allowed physician-assisted suicide in states that authorize the practice.

Oregon, which is the only state that allows doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives, filed suit two days ago challenging Ashcroft's authority to limit doctors' medical practices.


Doctors Missed First Anthrax Victims' Symptoms

Doctors who saw the first postal worker to die of anthrax mistakenly thought he had a stomach virus and sent him home after giving him antacids and nausea medicine, according to a medical report.

An Associated Press story on medical reports of the first two victims of inhaled anthrax says that the man, Joseph Curseen Jr. was rushed back to the hospital the next day, but by then he was gravely ill and died. Doctors on the first visit did not realize he was a postal worker -- he worked at the Brentwood facility that handles mail for Washington, D.C.-- and were thrown off by the symptoms, which appeared to be mainly digestive problems.

The detailed medical reports on the two victims are being published in medical journals. The first victim was Bob Stevens, 63, a photo editor at the Florida-based supermarket tabloid The Sun, and Curseen was the second.

A report on the first case is being published in an upcoming issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and the second will be in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Both were posted on the Internet this week, the AP said.

Meanwhile, Congress continues looking into tightening the law that governs access to dangerous biological agents, because existing regulations don't track anthrax and other deadly materials if a laboratory transfers them without proper documentation, the AP reported yesterday.

Federal authorities have little idea how many or even which U.S. labs have anthrax or other biological agents, partly because existing law doesn't require all labs to register. That's why the FBI says it has been unable to trace many of the laboratories where bioterrorists may have obtained the anthrax that was sent through the mail last month, the AP said.

In other developments, the Postal Service and an employee union agreed yesterday to reopen the Bellmawr postal facility in New Jersey while tests are conducted for further anthrax contamination. The federal judge who had closed the facility accepted the plan, the AP reported.

The union had filed a grievance when the postal service reopened the facility after a hazardous materials team had to treat it a second time because the wrong area had been decontaminated the first time, CNN said.


Cheese It! Gov't. Wants to Slice Pizza Standards

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to drop its decades-old rules that dictate how much meat, sausage or pepperoni must be in the toppings of frozen pizzas, the Associated Press reported.

Under USDA existing regulations, a frozen meat pizza must have a crust, cheese, a tomato-based sauce and at least 10 percent to 12 percent meat by weight. A 12-inch pepperoni would typically have about 20 pepperoni slices. There are similar identity standards for a variety of other processed products, including stew and chili.

The department will take public comment until Jan. 2 on its proposal to eliminate the pizza standards. Without those rules, a meat or sausage pizza could have as little as 2 percent meat, which is the minimum allowed for anything labeled as a meat product.

Kraft and other pizza makers say the rules, known as standards of identity, prevent them from lowering the fat content or trying out new sauces or ethnic styles in frozen pizzas.

USDA's regulations don't apply to restaurant or delivery pizza, or frozen vegetable or cheese pizzas. Such meatless products fall under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, which has no identity standards for pizza.


Groundbreaking Heart Study Looks for New Recruits

The Framingham Heart Study, whose breakthrough findings during the last 53 years have led millions of Americans to change the way they live, has begun recruiting its third generation of participants, the Associated Press reported.

Letters were sent this week to the grandchildren of the original participants, inviting them to continue in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents and take part in the longest epidemiological project in medicine.

"The future success of the study depends on your participation in this newest phase,'' the letter reads.

The Framingham study is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and staffed primarily by doctors from Boston University. It began in the Boston suburb of Framingham in 1948.

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