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My response to this piece is in the New Haven Register. This is the crux of it:

An Oregon-style law would create “death row” for sick people — with far less rigor or transparency.

(Read the entire letter here.)

In my letter, I cite information from Time Magazine on the execution of Michael Lee Wilson, as well as the Oregon Public Health Division’s annual reports. On minorities and hospice use, I got my key statistic here, but similar troubling disparities have been shown by more than one study, while this source gets into the kaleidoscope of reasons those disparities exist and the efforts being made to overcome them.

A friend pointed out to me that one of the commenters appears to have mistaken me for “the liberal left.”  I could not help but smile at that and I won’t be going out of my way to correct it.  People can read me however they like; the bottom line is that assisted suicide is bad public policy that endangers vulnerable people.  That transcends political ideology.

Readers, feel free to use my letter as a template for your own letters.  We need all of them — your voice can make a difference even if your letter is never published.  Don’t feel you are very eloquent?  Neither did Moses.  Be bold.

Sidewalks Closed, Eyes Opened

Incidentally, another letter that could have been a companion piece to mine ran a few days ago.  This one reminds us, in the midst of an epic New England winter, that an inconvenience to able-bodied people represents a radical challenge to others’ ability to participate in life simply because of a mobility issue.  I was struck by that idea on my morning commute recently as I watched a gentleman in a wheelchair, seeing the option of either navigating in the road versus an inadequately cleared sidewalk (past deadline), choose the road.  While I do not wish to demonize proprietors, they may have considered the sidewalk “good enough” — for themselves, or for me.  I could hardly think of a clearer way to send the message “You are invisible to us.”  We must open our eyes to all we take for granted in order to more fully grasp the potential devastating impact of assisted suicide.

Our friends at St. Ann Church in Avon will be holding a panel on assisted suicide on February 22. See their flyer below and please consider attending. image

Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images
Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

CT Mirror has a piece today about Sen. Blumenthal’s leadership role on the Clay Hunt veteran suicide prevention bill; the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on this legislation today.

I have, of course, very publicly locked horns with Sen. Blumenthal. There are not too many occasions when we find ourselves on the same side of a major issue. While I am not in a position to comment on the substance of Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) objections to the bill — which held it up until now — I can at least say that I find the principle utterly uncontroversial. Nobody deserves the allegedly substandard care that Clay Hunt received, described in the Mirror’s article.

I wonder if Sen. Blumenthal expected his work at the national level to be undermined by, of all entities, the Connecticut General Assembly. Less than two weeks ago the anticipated assisted suicide bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee. How our legislators resolve this massive case of cognitive dissonance, I can only speculate.

There’s no question that people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can experience intense suffering.  There are degrees, but the classic symptom that comes to mind is having terrifyingly realistic flashbacks. Another striking symptom is “feeling like you have no future.”

It is entirely appropriate to insist on the highest standards for those who were willing to sacrifice everything protecting us. However, I do not think it demeans their service to also insist that (for example) a cancer patient, elderly person with Alzheimer’s, or person with Spinal Muscular Atrophy is not less worthy or unequal in dignity. The state should not be giving one class of people suicide prevention while another gets suicide assistance.

S.B. 668 was hardly out of the gate before an editorial in the Hartford Courant began sounding the drumbeat for “a little pill” to take a pre-emptive strike at Alzheimer’s and dementia — for still-healthy individuals who also feel like they have no future. Last year, some legislators seemed particularly skeptical that a law ostensibly written for the psychologically competent and imminently dying would ever change, but this came as no surprise to FIC and our allies: assisted suicide promoters are actually quite frank about it when asked, such as when C&C’s president called assisted suicide for the mentally compromised “an issue for another day but no less compelling,” or when a supporter called New Jersey’s proposed bill “the first rung in a ladder to the autonomy that people should have.”

The General Assembly would do well to consider the message our state would be sending in two directions…

- To veterans: “Your suffering is less real.”

- To the sick, elderly, and disabled: “Your life is less valued.”

We simply can’t have it both ways.

Maggie speaking

Maggie Karner addresses the East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide (photo by Ellen Kolb).  

I suppose you could say that Brittany Maynard and I became the overnight internet brain cancer poster children on either side of the assisted suicide debate.   Within a few days of writing an opinion article for The Federalist and The Hartford Courant opposing her decision to kill herself, I started getting calls and TV interviews right and left, but the one thing the producers and editors all mentioned was that they wanted to interview me because I had the same terminal diagnosis and therefore apparently that made me qualified to speak on the topic of assisted suicide.  I guess they were looking for the “emotional right hook” as news outlets are wont to do.  But this left me conflicted because does that mean that anyone without a terminal diagnosis cannot express an opinion on assisted suicide?!  Even still, after recent TV interviews and YouTube hits on my video to Brittany, I received many tweets and online comments that reprimanded me by generally saying “Who are you to judge her?” — even with my brain tumor “qualification!”

I think this is just another symptom of our post-modern society has left for us;  today’s world tells us that if you have an opinion on something, apparently you are “judging” the people who have a different opinion. And it follows that society would like you to just shut up.

But what happened to the great American free marketplace of ideas?  What happened to rigorous and scholarly debate, with evidence, over issues that affect our society?  What’s worse, it seems you can only have an opinion on something today if you have lived through it, felt its wrath, or walked in its shoes.  Because in our modern culture, it’s all about FEELINGS, folks. If you have reams of evidence on the positives or negatives of something, apparently this is not applicable—what matters is how you FEEL about the issue and whether people like how you said it.

Which leads us to those heartbreaking videos of Brittany produced by “Compassion & Choices” (formerly known as The Hemlock Society).  The up-close glimpse into her personal agony and suffering contrasted with the beautiful, young, energetic newlywed she was just a year ago.  Of COURSE we feel bad for her.  Of COURSE we want her to feel better…whatever she requests…after all, who are WE to turn her request down?  We shouldn’t “judge!”  We haven’t been through anything like that.

But here’s the thing: It’s not just about Brittany; or just about me; or just about anyone else with a terminal illness or a disability.  It’s about ALL OF US! Her videos took one person’s very real, very tragic situation and tried to put it into a narrative that applies to everyone. And that leads to the old saying that judging on the basis of the hard cases makes bad law.

This is a public policy issue which needs a vigorous debate from ethicists and experts. It is a public policy issue—just like Obamacare or the Keystone pipeline, for crying out loud! AND it’s a moral issue that affects how society rudders itself. Essentially, it determines what we choose to look like as a civilized society.

Additionally, if you’re a Christian like me, then it is also a spiritual issue, directed by our Lord, that provides much opportunity for spiritual growth through suffering and selfless caregiving as we and our loved ones prepare for our eternal life with Christ.

But it doesn’t HAVE to be a spiritual issue. There is enough meat on the bones of this topic just as a social and policy issue that we could chew for years.  But Compassion & Choices apparently doesn’t want a reasoned public debate on this issue, they want people to react emotionally with their feelings. And that’s why you got Brittany Maynard, and those heartbreaking videos that went viral.

Proponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia want to capitalize on our emotions and change our vocabulary in the process. You’ll notice that Brittany refused to use the word “suicide” and preferred to call it other euphemistic terms such “death with dignity.”  I’ve heard other people refer to it as “ending one’s own life.” But this is simply an illusion.  We have to come to terms with the fact that assisted suicide—let’s call it what it is—affects others, and not just those close to the self-appointed victim, but ALL of us…especially the weak, disabled and vulnerable.

How long will it be before the “right to die” quickly devolves into the “duty to die” for all those who are elderly or disabled or wondering if they’ve become a burden to their family?

And let’s also look for a moment at how assisted suicide affects the patient/doctor relationship. I chose my oncologist at Yale because I personally think he is a rock star in the world of brain tumor care. I was diagnosed in April of 2014, and to this day my doctor will not give me any kind of a timeline for my disease…on purpose. He wants me to fight and live without adding an arbitrary timeline—essentially a monkey on my back—to add to the constant stress that cancer diagnosis brings. Because, I’ve got news for you: we all have a timeline…we’re all going to die…someday. But no one knows when.  My doctor made sure I knew the general definitions of glioblastoma and the high reoccurrence rate and low survivability data.  He told me to “do the things now that I enjoy or that are meaningful to me.”  But he refuses to speculate on me. Because I’m an individual and every person deserves the right to fight.  However, what if our fragile and overburdened healthcare system determines that it is not in our society’s (or the third-party payer’s) best interest to offer a “an extension on an already terminal case” …but perhaps it would be more economically expedient if they recommend suicide pills instead of chemo?

That is why our country must continue to expand state efforts to increase availability of home care, early access to hospices and palliative care and a continued expectation that even when we are at our weakest, the strong arm of the state will be there to protect and defend our choice for care, not offer suicide as a false choice for empowerment or the illusion of control.

So my whole point to make is that I have a brain tumor…so what?! That does not qualify me any more than you to speak about the danger to our society that assisted suicide poses.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t have an opinion because you “haven’t been through it.”  Learn the data and get the information you need to have an opinion and to express it.  Because this topic isn’t just for folks with an unfortunate diagnosis to decide. This topic needs to be decided every one of us because it affects us all.

 

Ellmers

The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity. – Yeats (“The Second Coming”)

I do not pretend to know what is really behind “pro-life” House Republicans’ sudden attack of scruples about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, especially as sources call it identical or practically identical to a bill these same legislators voted on in prior years. I have no idea what motivated them. I’m not sure I care.

I don’t mean that it isn’t upsetting; of course it is. It was March 2010 all over again. The press eat it up. It gives Nancy Pelosi a perch to crow from. It gives Sen. Blumenthal a pretense to try to resuscitate his “Bulldoze the States” abortion bill.

Zombies

Like a horror movie villain, the Protect Abortion At All Costs Act just won’t die.

 

This is all immensely frustrating for at least two reasons: first, because of the mind-boggling pettiness of debating either way over rape reporting in a bill that still allows abortion for any reason for an exceedingly generous five months; second, because if there were any time to pass this bill, it ought to be with half a million women and men of all ages and races in Congress’ front yard and a number of favorable public opinion polls in hand.

Nevertheless, I have no intention of letting this temporary setback steal my focus, any more than a snow plow pauses to contemplate what it has just just cleared. As far as I am concerned, the best lesson for politicians who talk from both sides of their mouth is not to go down in ignominious celebrity, but to be quickly and thoroughly forgotten by history — recalled only by those unfortunate folk who voted for them and need to hold them directly accountable, and then only as long as required. (Could they use our prayers? Certainly, but so could all our public officials, all the time.)

Most progress is being made in the states. We were not sitting around waiting for Congress to catch up to us. It is primarily this approach that has Blumenthal in a paper-bag-clutching panic:

Blumey freakout

 

It is this approach that is rapidly leaving him and Congressional compadre Chris Murphy looking, frankly, old…

Youth for life

A group of youths at the March for Life

 

…dare I say white?…

Black lives matter

 

…and very, very reactionary.

In a recent e-mail blast, Sen. Blumenthal refers to “our out-of-touch opponents.” I’m no psychologist, but I believe that’s what they call projection. Radical proponents of abortion throughout pregnancy are running scared. I can think of no better endorsement.

There are still Congresspeople who get it. While the Courant did not deign to give the March for Life space in its print edition, its online coverage did include this ovation-worthy money quote from Lindsey Graham:

“I can’t wait for the debate. I’m looking forward to the debate. I want to hear how we’re a better country by aborting babies at 20 weeks.”

To let our anger — justified though it is — distract us for a minute from important work that’s well within our capacity is to aid and abet our True Enemy (spiritually speaking). I have the strongest conviction that legal abortion’s days are numbered; you have just heard it straight from the quaking lips of the Old Guard, no less. I envision the ultimate victory whether this handful of vacillating Republicans eventually come around or not. Let’s not take our eyes off the ball.

MfL

The Hartford Courant digital edition has thrown pro-lifers a bone — an itty, bitty chicken wing bone. A search using the terms “March for Life” yielded six relevant hits (initially 64, but on closer examination, most had nothing to do with it) within a four-day period. During the same time frame, there were 26 stories that mentioned Deflategate. Indeed, that made the front page on Friday.

I know this is some kind of blasphemy, but…pssst: It’s. A. Game.

Anyhow, six mentions. One photo, which wasn’t of the counterprotest for a change, but certainly didn’t give any real sense of the scope of the crowd. If only we were that easily impressed. You see, if you were one of the Courant’s 450,000+ exclusive print subscribers, you might get the impression that all was quiet on Constitution Avenue — not that one of the largest human rights demonstrations in American history had just occurred.

GrumpyCat

In fact, whereas I am told the Waterbury Republican-American ran a story specifically on the March for Life, and the New Haven Register had this stunning 26-image online pictorial of a local march the same day — pretty much unheard-of, as far as I know, so try to find a moment to leave a nice comment — the Courant print edition showed an extraordinary knack for finding the one abortion story, the one angle, that completely ignored the estimated half million people who were *cough* coincidentally in D.C. and managed to spin the ‘correct’ narrative:

Courantfpage

Don’t even bother looking for a vague reference buried in there. I double- and triple-checked; there is none.

John Boehner’s face appropriately sums up how I feel about this, as well as the whole House GOP fiasco, which I will write more about soon.

Bible

Hartford has landed near the bottom of American Bible Society’s latest ranking of most Bible-minded cities in the U.S.  New England is over-represented, in general. Anybody shocked?

One could easily make a number of trite observations about why we are in the shape we’re in.  I will just indulge in this one: American Bible Society has previously found a strong correlation between frequent Bible-reading and giving to charity, even when income was comparable (or less). Philanthropy.com ranks the generosity of over 300 U.S. cities and it’s fair to say New England gets totally smoked; among the 50 largest metro areas, three New England cities help make up the bottom five, with Hartford coming dead last.

If New Englanders were polled about their religious beliefs, I’d be willing to bet they would sound a lot like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. If you’ve never heard that term, trust me, it’s quickly going to become one of your new favorites. There’s a wonderful illustrated explanation here.

Nothing New Under the Sun

(Yo, Hartford, that’s from Ecclesiastes — one of the books of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, not a pancreatic condition! *wink*)

America has gone through several periods of relative interest and uninterest in religious faith. The former are what historians call “Great Awakenings.” From these we get the quintessential image of the revivalist preacher delivering a rousing sermon to a tent crowded full of average people. New England was swept once, by both homegrown (i.e. Jonathan Edwards) and traveling (i.e. George Whitefield) preachers, in the mid-1700s and again in the early 1800s. During this time millions of new members joined congregations. The social reverberations were significant, as these episodes are thought to have been precursors to the American Revolution and the movement to abolish slavery, respectively.

“Awake, O Sleeper! Rise Up”

(Hartford, you may need a turbo shot at Dunkin Donuts.)

Awakening doesn’t happen unless there has been a slumber. Ironic as it may seem that the region where the Pilgrims first sought refuge should become so secular, a little perspective is the difference between seeing in New England a barren wasteland, versus a fertile (though neglected) field awaiting sowing by the next Edwards or Whitefield. I don’t know who that will be; it could be someone reading this blog right now — don’t rule it out!

Scripture literacy, church attendance, and prayer are among important indicators of a healthy spiritual life. As I put it to a friend: few people become world-class musicians by skipping lessons and practice. However, it’s not enough to tell people this; they need to see the difference it makes in your life and mine in order to be convinced. Once they do, it’s only a matter of time before they start putting two and two together.

Don’t be afraid to let your light shine (and attend to any cobwebs you’ve been putting off dusting; we all have ‘em). Imagine a renewed Connecticut, striving in faith to reach its full potential. It could change the course of history.

Scrap the Hippocratic Oath?

Baby bath water

An op-ed in The Hartford Courant today calls the Hippocratic Oath “more archaic than a washboard” and “a roughly 2,000-year-old text with only marginal relevance to medicine today.” It peeves almost every pet I have, with its appeal to ‘modernity’ and too much other shoddy logic. Editorials like these do violence to the rational minds of both the writer and the reader, as well as potentially some actual bodies in the future.

Has human nature changed so much in 2,000 years? Have arrogance, greed, and corruption disappeared? In any age, has the shaman, the healer, or the surgeon not possessed seemingly godlike powers? Did Hippocrates not wisely recognize that such powers need legitimate restriction to protect the doctors’ vulnerable charges? Case in point:

“Over-civilization and barbarism are within an inch of each other. And a mark of both is the power of medicine-men.” – G.K. Chesterton

That statement was made more than a century ago. “Le plus ça change, le plus que c’est la même chose.”

The authors continue:

The history of medicine is littered with examples of doctors inadvertently doing harm. …So do we revise our oath to say, “Do no intentional harm”?

Last time I checked, oaths apply to intentional behavior. Think how silly it would be to swear never to do anything by accident or without foreknowledge. The idea is not to try to show that the HO could stand revision, but that it is impossible to revise and should be ignored — baby and bath water.

The question of what constitutes harm has come to the fore recently in a number of ways. Can doctors ethically be involved in executions? Should they offer advice with regard to torture?

Here, they leave themselves no choice but to assume that these questions are impossibly difficult to answer. Maybe the answer is, in fact, no (or maybe it is yes, because of some sensible distinction). Maybe it would actually be fairly easy to answer them, if someone were interested in trying, which they apparently are not.

After having dithered, they finally get around to the real point, the focus of the rest of the article:

But what if that individual, like Brittany Maynard, has a terminal disease that doctors predict will result in a painful death? Which causes more harm: forcing the terminally ill to suffer and live, or allowing them to die without pain?

We’ve had numerous experts testify that this is a false choice; there is no particularly good reason it must be one scenario or the other. But to admit a middle ground is to lose the case for doctor-prescribed death.

As many doctors point out, since medicine has already discarded the vast majority of the Hippocratic oath, why adhere to the sentence about poisoning…

This rationale was probably behind the discard of other valuable parts too, like the one about not inducing an abortion. It creates what looks like a self-perpetuating cycle to anyone with a little perspective, not including our editorialists.

The most interesting, or perhaps the only interesting part of the piece is this provocative suggestion of creating a professional subclass that, while not doctors, would still be under the health/medicine umbrella and thus still subject to concerns about the degradation of the “healing arts”:

During childbirth, some women engage a doula to act as their advocate, ensuring that, as much as possible, the woman’s wishes are followed. Such a position could also be created to oversee the end of life for the terminally ill.

Most of us know how easy it is to lose one’s footing stepping in a hospital. Sometimes it’s because of unforeseen medical events. Other times it may be a disagreement on how to proceed in a complicated case. A death doula’s job would include ensuring, to the extent possible, that a patient’s stated desires are obeyed.

And if we are squeamish about doctors “violating” their ethics and prescribing lethal medication for the terminally ill who request it, we could shift this responsibility to licensed doulas, after physicians certify they can no longer help the patient.

…But the excitement of this original notion fades once one realizes it’s not that original. We already have people who ensure that patients’ wishes are followed, to the extent possible, if they aren’t able to do so themselves. They’re called the medical power of attorney or executor of an advance directive (death doula is admittedly more catchy, though it sounds too close to death panels). What we need is more of them. Besides, Compassion & Choices — formerly the Hemlock Society — wants to be your death doula. They’ll gladly put you in touch with one of their “counselors,” who you are expected to believe are objective, although their organization spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to pass single-issue legislation that leaves them needing a reason for their continued existence if they succeed. Either way, the position is filled.

The agenda becomes crystal clear in the concluding paragraph:

Clearly, we can no longer hide behind the flimsy shield of the Hippocratic oath. The drumbeat for change has begun. To pretend otherwise shows a lack of compassion and a disregard for not just for medicine but for the dignity of life.

In other words, forget the 800+ words we spent pretending to invite healthy debate about a possibly dated pledge. Just get out of the way or be steamrolled by the relentless march of Progress — toward assisted suicide and euthanasia.

I call baloney on the charade. To me, this piece resembles nothing as much as those anti-Christians or anti-theists who, thinking themselves clever, declare it all passé and invalid because I wear polyester blends. The Hippocratic Oath has become ‘irrelevant’ only to those who have long since lost the fortitude to uphold those principles within it that are timeless. Arguably, few things are more constant throughout human history than the temptation to sacrifice a sturdy principle for some shifting expediency. It is precisely such times for which the Oath was designed, and in such times when we need it the most.

image-23

You just have to love the nation’s oldest continuously-published newspaper.

Thanks to the AP, over 100 news outlets covered the highly successful, first-ever East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide which we co-sponsored. The Hartford Courant was not among them although the event was within 10 minutes of Broad Street headquarters.

What is newsworthy, pray tell? A screening of a now six-year-old film in a diner.

Read the announcement and see that they can’t even decide which of three terms to use for the act of killing oneself with a massive barbiturate overdose — or, rather, they’ve decided not to decide.

A search of The Courant’s website using the words “Brittany Maynard” yields 19 hits, including 3 videos. A search using the words “Maggie Karner” yields 4 hits, including a piece that devotes majority space to assisted suicide promoters, and no videos.

Maggie Karner has an actual presence in Connecticut and has reached more than 400,000 people with her video message. One would think a major local publication would take more interest in meeting her ‘in the flesh.’

This is reminiscent of the 2012 HHS Mandate protests when 615 trees (people) fell in the forest (downtown Hartford) and, if you believe CT media, made no sound. It’s ridiculous and shameful but unfortunately not surprising.

Should We Send A Search Party?

We’re concerned that Dennis House may have gone missing. At least, that’s what we’re assuming since he has not responded to a request from Cathy Ludlum of Second Thoughts CT for equal time after one of C&C’s favorite martyrs, Barbara Mancini, was a guest on Face the State. That request has gone unanswered for over a month. In Cathy’s own words:

Dear Dennis,

Thank you for devoting a portion of your show today to the topic of physician-assisted suicide. This is an often-misunderstood issue, and discussion is healthy in order to create the best possible social policies.

I was disappointed, however, that only one side of the story was presented. Barbara Mancini should never have been arrested, yet this miscarriage of justice has given her a sounding board all over the country, including on 60 Minutes.

Your report perpetuated the stereotype that the primary opponents of physician-assisted suicide are religious people, and especially the Catholic Church. People with disabilities are a large and vocal constituency who are generally overlooked by the media even though we consistently talk with legislators, show up at hearings, submit testimony, and write letters to newspapers and blogs about how physician-assisted suicide poses a direct threat to us.

I am one of the leaders of Second Thoughts Connecticut, a grassroots disability advocacy organization opposed to the legalization of physician assisted-suicide. I am requesting that I or one of my colleagues be invited onto your show to provide equal time for an opposing perspective. Attached you will find a few documents you might find interesting.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Dennis, if you’re reading this, please get back to her and don’t keep her waiting. Oversights happen, especially when holidays are involved, but this is of no small importance to her and to all of us.

Cathy Ludlum

(Waiting to hear from you, Dennis: Cathy Ludlum of Second Thoughts Connecticut)

image-22

The Connecticut Catholic Conference released its annual report on abortion in Connecticut on December 31. I encourage all our readers to spend a few minutes familiarizing themselves with it, but here are some highlights:

Good news: Abortion numbers are on a down-trend, overall.

Room for improvement: In 2013 (the last year included) there were still 10,000+ too many abortions!
Also, drug-induced abortions are up as a percentage of the total.

Good news: There are now 4 plans on Connecticut’s health insurance exchange that don’t cover elective abortion.
None of these enrollees will pay a separate abortion surcharge.

Room for improvement: There is no plan that completely excludes all abortion.
We agree with the Catholic Conference, there should be at least one. We wish the insurance companies had listened to us when we first testified against elevating abortion to “essential health benefit” status in 2012. The first company to offer such a plan would have a competitive edge among people who are in the market for a different plan but don’t equate killing with quality medical care (imagine that!).

Good news: Compliance with legal reporting requirements has “significantly” improved.

Room for improvement: Some abortionists are still failing to provide the Department of Public Health important information, such as the age of women undergoing abortions and gestational ages of the unborn children.

Good news: Since 2008, 4 abortion clinics have closed. (Hooray!)

Room for improvement: Connecticut still has an abortion tourism problem.
Without a parental consent or notification law, Connecticut has become a destination for circumventing the laws of neighboring states. Over a 10-year period, 90% of abortions — over 700 — involving an out-of-state minor were done on girls from nearby states with parental consent/notification laws, primarily Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This remains a high priority for us.

The full report is here.

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