Acton Institute report challenges religious activism behind bogus medical vinyl scare.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Oct. 28, 2003) — A long running campaign to rid hospitals and other health care facilities of medical vinyl products – endorsed by a variety of religious supporters – has dangerously overstated the risks associated with vinyl use and diverted attention from much more serious health threats, according to a new report from the Acton Institute.

The report focuses on the activities of Health Care Without Harm, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group that seeks to eliminate medical products made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. While there may be prudent reasons for limiting vinyl exposure to certain highly vulnerable groups, such as premature infants, the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows that not only are vinyl products safe, they are essential to modern healthcare.

“Secular and religious enviro-health activists have grossly exaggerated the potential problems of vinyl products,” writes Doug Bandow, author of the Acton Institute report. “The campaign against PVC products is an ideological crusade rather than a campaign for public health.”

Although Health Care Without Harm is pressuring the health care industry to phase out medical vinyl, there is no guarantee that it or its supporters would agree on cost-effective substitutes for PVC. Rev. Jerry Zandstra, director of programs at Acton, said that the campaign against medical vinyl – based on a very small risk – would in effect create new harms by denying patients the use of products that have proved safe in billions of treatments. What’s more, he said, the ongoing, concerted effort to remove PVC products from hospitals diverts attention that should be paid to vastly greater health risks. For example, an estimated 30,000 patients die every year in the United States from medical injuries caused during hospital stays.

Rev. Zandstra appealed to the hospitals and health professionals who have supported Health Care Without Harm’s anti-vinyl campaign to reconsider. “We should all be putting patients first, rather than sacrificing their care and their dignity to ideologically-driven campaigns against a phantom threat,” he said.

Religious groups endorsing the Health Care Without Harm position include the General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C.; The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, N.Y.; the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Washington; The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Washington.

Health care organizations that have endorsed Health Care Without Harm’s position on medical vinyl include Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, N.Y.; the Catholic Health Association of the United States, Washington; Cook County Bureau of Health Services, Chicago; and Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.

About the Acton Institute
With its commitment to pursue a society that is free and virtuous, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is a leading voice in the national environmental and social policy debate. The Acton Institute is uniquely positioned to comment on the sound economic and moral foundations necessary to sustain humane environmental and social policies.

The Acton Institute is a nonprofit, ecumenical think tank located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Institute works internationally to "promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles." For more on the Acton Institute, please visit www.acton.org.

Interviews with Institute staff may be arranged by contacting John Couretas at (616) 454-3080 or at jcouretas@acton.org.