We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Another U.S. Woman Dies of Surrogacy
This week, news broke that a California woman acting as a surrogate died while giving birth. CNN reports, “Michelle Reaves, described as a ‘mama, wifey and beautiful soul,’ passed away last week due to complications while giving birth.” The news broke when friends of Reaves created a GoFundMe created to help her husband and two kids in the wake of her loss. "No one deserves to lose their mama so young or the mother of their children," Reaves’ friend wrote on the page.
In a statement, the Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) in California noted the cause of death was a rare complication called an amniotic fluid embolism. While this could happen with any pregnancy, the CBC wrote, “recent studies have shown that surrogate pregnancies are different and are high-risk. Studies show that women pregnant with donor eggs (as in gestational surrogacy) have a more than three-fold risk of developing pregnancy induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia.” In 2015, an Idaho woman was the first known U.S. woman to die while partaking in surrogacy. The exact number of women who die during surrogacy is unknown.
CBC founder Jennifer Lahl calls California “the reproductive tourist capital of the world.” In a 2017 piece for Verily, Lahl wrote, “We need to work together as feminists, activists, experts, and academics to stop this global trading on the female body. We need to encourage the United States to catch up to the rest of the world in putting regulations and restrictions on surrogacy.” —Mary Rose Somarriba
Space Force Unveils Camouflage Uniforms; Twitterverse Reacts
On December 20, 2019, President Trump established the United States Space Force as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The USSF is the sixth military service branch, acting under the umbrella of the United States Air Force, and it is the first military service branch to have been created since the Air Force was launched (no pun intended) in 1947. But perhaps what drew more attention in the Twitterverse than the creation of a military branch designed to protect the universe was the design of the Space Force uniforms: camouflage print.
The question many people asked was, “Why do you need camo in space?” The Space Force responded to criticism by saying they were using recycled uniforms from the U.S. Army/Air Force to save money and that most of Space Force’s 16,000 personnel are based on earth. Still, celebrities weighed in with hilarious takes on the uniforms. Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, tweeted, “Han wore it better #MayTheSpaceForceBeWithYou.” Sci-fi author Chuck Wendig tweeted another Star Wars reference, “Are they fighting on the forest moon of Endor?” Tobias Lemke, a University of Delaware PhD candidate in international relations, tweeted (and, not lost on the joke, the USSF retweeted), “Plz calm down folks. I’m sure they’ll adjust their camo theme for each and every planet they visit.” —Melanie Wilcox
Investigation Reveals Sex Abuse and Coverups within Amish Communities
An investigative piece in the February edition of Cosmopolitan reveals cases of sex abuse and coverups within certain Amish communities. Journalist Sarah McClure reports from year-long inquiries into sex abuse within the traditionalist Christian society known primarily for its simple, disciplined lifestyle and rejection of modern technologies. It turns out that in some communities, while the modest lifestyle appears from the outside to be idyllic in a House on the Prairie sort of way, some branches of the closed-off society harbor dark secrets that destroys its women and girls.
McClure notes that she uncovered 52 cases of sexual abuse within Amish community that were charged and prosecuted, but goes on to reveal, via anecdotal evidence, that this number pales in comparison to the actual count of rapes and incest that go undocumented. As she tells NPR host Michel Martin in a revealing interview, “The majority of my sources never made a police report. They never had a court case. Whenever I spoke with these women, they had dozens of other victims that they told me about, dozens of other cousins and friends and family members that—they told me that this had happened to them, too.”
Instead of reporting to law enforcement, many Amish leaders instead choose to deal with the sex abuse in a way that focuses on the repentance of the abuser and his consequent forgiveness by the larger community. What’s more, girls affected by sex abuse are often sent away to Amish mental institutions where they are drugged into oblivion and encouraged not to speak of their abuse again.
This investigation into the coverup of sex abuse exposes a deep-seated corruption within some Amish communities, while giving a clear, strong voice to girls and women who were often shamed and alienated for speaking up. —Mariel Lindsay
Prince Harry Shares His “Great Sadness” As He and Meghan Give Up Royal Life
This week Prince Harry told guests at a charity dinner, “it brings me great sadness that it has come to this,” in the wake of Buckingham Palace’s announcement that he and his wife would drop their titles of His and Her Royal Highness and no longer be representatives for the queen. “Our hope was to continue serving the queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations without public funding. Sadly that wasn’t possible,” Harry said in a speech at the event for his HIV charity, Sentebale. The couple had earlier announced their intention to become financially independent, foregoing the “Sovereign Grant,” which is how taxpayer money is distributed to working royals. That announcement was greeted with surprise by palace courtiers and was said to have disappointed and shocked the queen and other family members.
By cutting ties to public funding and spending most of their time in a new home in Canada, Harry and Meghan hope to escape the rabid, often racist tabloid press coverage that has stalked their every step since their 2018 wedding. Sadly that seems an unlikely dream. This week, the couple’s legal reps sent a cease and desist letter to British newspapers, warning them not to use photos taken by paparazzi camped outside their Vancouver Island home. —Margaret Brady
CDC Announces First U.S. Case of Coronavirus
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this week that a new virus first identified in China has appeared in the United States. Wuhan coronavirus—named after the Chinese city it began spreading in—is in the same family as the notorious SARS coronavirus which sickened thousands and killed hundreds of people in the early 2000s. Such illnesses cause respiratory symptoms like a sore throat, coughing and fever. In some cases the infection is mild and patients recover quickly; however, other victims develop pneumonia. So far in China more than 400 people have been infected and 17 have died.
The U.S. patient, a 30-year-old man whose name is not being disclosed, had recently traveled to Wuhan. He fell ill and sought treatment four days after returning to his home north of Seattle. Currently he is in isolation in a hospital in Washington state. CNN reported he is doing well and the CDC is tracing his contacts to determine whether anyone else has been infected.
Officials say the risk to the public is low, and the virus is not transmitted from person to person as easily as other germs like those that cause the flu. However health screenings have been implemented for passengers arriving from Wuhan at John F Kennedy, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airports. —MB
SAG Awards Facilitate Pitt-Aniston Run-in
At the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Parasite, a South Korean dark comedy, made history by becoming the first-foreign language film to win best ensemble. In a much-talked-about highlight, Brad Pitt poked fun at his personal life in his acceptance speech for best supporting actor, saying it was a “difficult part” to play someone who struggled in their marriage. “It was a big stretch,” Pitt said, to great laughter in the audience. After the camera panned at attendees’ reactions, it momentarily showed Pitt’s ex-wife Jennifer Aniston, who smiled and made a few claps. Afterward, when Aniston won for her role in Morning Show, Pitt was caught watching her acceptance speech backstage. She later commented that it was “sweet.” The world of Brennifer fans happily jumped on these occurrences to speculate a renewed connection between the two. —MW
Protagonist of 'Hunger Games' Prequel is Revealed: A Young President Snow
Suzanne Collins has written a prequel to the popular Hunger Games series, and an exclusive excerpt was released on Tuesday by Entertainment Weekly. The hero of the new book is an unlikely character: a teenaged Coriolanus Snow, who fans know will grow up to be a murderous, manipulative dictator.
The prequel, called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is set more than 60 years before the events of the original Hunger Games novel. Snow is an ambitious student in his senior year, and he’s hoping to win a scholarship to cover his college tuition. To do so, he’ll need to perform well as a mentor in the Hunger Games, a new role invented to make the Games more entertaining.
In the excerpt, Snow doesn’t exactly come off as a prince—he’s described as charming, but in fact he’s a skillful brown-noser, flattering everyone he speaks to, demonstrating that manipulative streak. He comes from a well-known family and he even tries to walk in a way that is “casually dignified.” Coriolanus rhymes with pretentious.
To his dismay, he’s assigned to mentor a long-shot tribute, a girl from District 12. Of course, six decades later, Snow’s nemesis Katniss Everdeen will be the female tribute from 12. So who is this tribute Snow will be mentoring, and what future awaits her? We’ll have to wait til the book comes out on May 19! —MB
English Girls Now Have Access To Free Period Products At School
England’s Department for Education launched a new program this week, providing tampons, pads, and other period supplies for free at all state schools and colleges. The move follows the earlier debut of similar programs in Scotland and Wales.
Research has found that more than 130,000 schoolgirls in the United Kingdom missed class in 2018 due to menstruation, and more than 40 percent of women and girls in the 14-21 age range said they have sometimes used makeshift gear like rolled up socks or paper. The Guardian quoted the assistant general secretary of National Education Union, Rosamund McNeil: “No girl in the UK should miss out on education because they can’t afford these essential products.”
Awareness has risen around the world about “period poverty” and how lack of access to these basic necessities is often overlooked. In the United States, much discussion has occurred around the “tampon tax”—the fact that most states charge sales tax for feminine products, meaning governments are making money from women simply because they are females with normal, healthy, menstruating bodies. Bravo to England for taking steps to make sure every girl can attend class and learn in comfort, without having to spend energy or brain space worrying about not being prepared for her period. —MB
Good News of the Week: Immunology Discovery Could Lead to Universal Cancer Treatment
Hopeful new findings reveal that ground-breaking scientific research are guiding the development of a universal cancer treatment. According to the findings published in Nature Immunology, researchers at Cardiff University in Wales have discovered a method to program the immune system to attack cancer cells.
So how does this work in practice? Researchers uncovered a T-cell, an immune cell, that scans the bodies for threats to eliminate and that, when properly harnessed, possesses the potential to attack a wide range of different types of cancerous cells. The process works, in theory, by extracting blood from the cancer patient, filtering out the T-cell, injecting it with a harmless virus used to deliver genes that consequently modify the T-cell to recognize parts of cancer cells, duplicating the modified cell in the laboratory, and finally injecting them back into the patient.
Though the treatment has as of yet been tested on animals and on human cells in labs, scientists hope to maneuver bureaucratic red tape in a timely manner and begin trials on human patients. To so many very sick people who have exhausted other options, this innovative treatment offers immense hope. If all goes according to plan, medical providers will be able to offer a “one-size-fits-all” cancer treatment that was previously believed impossible. —ML
Watch of the Week
In honor of Terry Jones, a comedian best known for his work with Monty Python who died this week, The Guardian created this compilation video. The laughs will certainly live on.
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