Anti-Obesity Stomach Pump: Wasteful, Risky, Disgusting

Posted on January 10, 2013


Okay, we 21st-century denizens are officially more decadent and wasteful than the worst epicureans of the Roman Empire.  As ABC News reports, the AspireAssist stomach pump enables patients to eat a full meal, then about 20 minutes later, attach a pump to a surgically implanted port on their abdomen, and suck about 30% of their just-consumed meal right out of the stomach, and dump it in the toilet.

Wow.  I don’t know where to start.  Aside from the obvious “yuck” factor, I’m pretty appalled at the intentional waste of food; with hundreds of millions of malnourished people reported annually worldwide, this rises to the level of an obscenity .  Sure, Glutton, eat all you like.  Enjoy gorging yourself, and easily maintain your svelte figure by simply removing that meal you just enjoyed before you have a chance to digest it.  Hey, I have a radical idea:  instead of dumping 30% of your just-consumed meal, how about you put 30% less food on your plate to start with?  Whoa.

Some may think this is less invasive than gastric bypass surgery, and argue that it is more easily reversed, but it is still a surgical procedure with all of the attendant risks, limitations, and costs.  And think on this:  it is not like a surgical port, which is normally self-contained and protected beneath the patient’s skin (and even those have health risks).  AspireAssist points out that their system is much like a PEG tube, or stomach feeding tube.  That makes sense.  Some patients can’t swallow and have a tube inserted directly into the stomach; now we have patients who swallow way too much and want a tube to get the food directly out of the stomach.

Well, the PEG tube may be a fairly common surgery, but it is no light procedure!  It involves a tube that starts inside the stomach, runs through a hole in the stomach wall, through muscle and connective tissue and skin, and ends at a port which remains outside the body.  Yeah, what could possibly go wrong with this?  Looking at the combined experiences of PEG tube patients, we find peritonitis, hemorrhage, infection, leakage, “buried bumper,” in which the tube is accidentally pulled into the body, accidental removal, and that ever-popular side effect, death.  Since the AspireAssist is essentially the same thing as a PEG tube in reverse, we can infer that the statistics will likely be similar.  Granted, the numbers are small, but – really, wouldn’t it be easier, cheaper, and safer to just eat less?  Not to mention, far less wasteful in terms of both food and medical resources?

This thing is just an enabler for gluttons who don’t want to change their lifestyle.  Even gastric bypass surgery forces patients to drastically alter what they eat, and how much.  But this – this is basically medically-sanctioned bulimia, simply accomplished through a surgically implanted drain rather than induced vomiting.  So far, thank goodness, this monstrosity is not approved for use in the US, and has only been used in a small trial of a couple of dozen patients in Europe.

Something is seriously wrong when we think that surgery is an easy, viable solution to our own lack of willpower.  Michael Pollan has it exactly right:  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  But nah, that’s too simple, isn’t it?