Guest essay by Charles G. Battig, M.D.
Earlier today, WUWT carried a press release “Anesthetic gases raise Earth’s temperature (a little) while you sleep (7 April 2015)” according to the online Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. “The gases used to knock out surgery patients are accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere, where they make a small contribution to climate change, report scientists who have detected the compounds as far afield as Antarctica.” They note that: “Carbon dioxide – which hit 400 parts per million in 2014 -is a billion times more abundant than the most prevalent of these anesthetics,” but the authors are already worrying about the (“small”) climate impacts, and want your doctor to be worried as well.
The paper contains such gems as: “Like the well-known climate warmer carbon dioxide, anesthesia gases allow the atmosphere to store more energy from the Sun.” Evidently, the GRU has a new take on the “greenhouse effect.”
Their detection of these errant molecules of various halogenated ether anesthetic gases in the atmosphere is now to be taken into account by your anesthesiologist, and subordinated to such traditional medical considerations as your age, health, pre-existing disease, cardio-pulmonary status, the nature of the surgical procedure, and your own preference for general or regional anesthesia.
Jodi Sherman, MD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology & Environmental Compliance Officer Yale University, School of Medicine appears to have fully embraced the elevation of sustainability as a necessary concern of physicians.
She is listed as contributor to a webinar produced by Practice Greenhealth webinar. The infiltration of “sustainability” dogma into medical practice (“The Progressive’s Stone: Sustainability”) is evident by the webinar statement: “OR [operating room] physician and nursing leadership are critical to move the Greening the OR Initiative forward until a culture of sustainability has permeated the OR staff mindset. In this session, we propose strategies for including, recruiting, and possibly mandating anesthesiologist, surgeon, and nurse conservation efforts…(Practice Greenhealth webinar October 2012).” “Mandating” conservation, but not good medical outcomes…Sustainability in the ecologically correct operating room, or else? Physician and patient be aware, maybe even be afraid.
Sherman admonishes that: “Anesthesia gases are something that the health care industry can easily do something about.” Well we could just go back to a swig of whiskey and “bite the bullet” era of pseudo-anesthesia. Shall those women eased through childbirth with whiffs of nitrous oxide be held guilty for environmental sin? The term “health care industry” is offensive in itself, and demonstrates a denigration of all those who have chosen to pursue care of the sick, as the sustainabilists reduce all to the common denominator of industrial cog.
Having retired from practiced as a board certified anesthesiologist in both university and private settings; I recoil at the thought of the imposition of additional, non-patient centered concerns to the clinician’s provision of safe and patient-appropriate anesthetic care. There is enough uncertainty and unexpected medical catastrophe lurking each time a patient is put to sleep, without being burdened by molecular climate theory. My experience brackets the use of ether and cyclopropane anesthetics (highly flammable) to the halogenated ethers mentioned above, as well as the ubiquitous nitrous oxide. I must now bear the burden of all those errant molecules let loose upon the environment during the provision of a safe and pain-free surgical experience to my patients over the decades.