Dr Heimlich's pet procedure has precious little science supporting it, maybe none. Not that there is any lack of anecdotal evidence. But are we going to make public policy based on anecdotal evidence?
Two other methods have long been used, including back slaps and sternal thrusts. Both of these approaches are less likely to rupture internal organs. New research shows in fact that a chest thrust is more effective than the Heimlich maneuver--that it moves more air. It is already being taught as the preferred method to use on a pregnant woman who is choking. So why is it that everybody knows about the Heimlich maneuver?
There's a story, and it has to do with a certain egotist by the name of Heimlich. He is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr Heimlich is a most excellent propagandist. He also as aggressive in shutting up his skeptics. He tries to get people fired, he threatens to sue. He has gone well out of his way to prevent scientific studies from being done on the use of his "maneuver". He asserts that the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming and there is no doubt. He is still alive and defending his legacy. He claims that his maneuver is useful for drowning victims and in many other circumstances. He also claims that he can cure AIDS by injecting the malaria parasite.
Ironically it is Dr Heimlich's son that has exposed him. The son Peter put up a website to educate the public about his father. Not surprisingly Dr Heimlich refuses to discuss the matter, saying that he knows his son's motivations but that it is a "family matter". I found out about this story by way of this excellent audio health report from ABC. The reporter who researched the story is Australian, and in Australia the Heimlich maneuver never has been taught or used officially.
I take two things from this. One is that I will definitely try back blows first, then chest compressions, if I have a choking victim who is not coughing. And the other morsel of note to me is the method by which Heimlich singlehandedly snuffed his opposition for as long as he did. I think there may be a few similar propagandists working to squelch skepticism about homeopathy even as I type this.
My final random observation is that the world now knows how to correctly pronounce one Germanic name. That is a feat of education. How many German words are correctly pronounced in American English? Precious few. Perhaps we should commend Dr Heimlich for teaching Americans a wee little bit about another language.