Sunday, December 10, 2006

Who to thank for public health miracles

In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control released "Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Healthier Mothers and Babies." This report is a study in what public health efforts can achieve, but also serves as a great example of how statistics can be misused to further the pro-abortion agenda.

The good news is that in the 20th century, maternal and infant mortality fell over 90%. Aseptic techniques of delivery, antibiotics, vaccinations, sanitation, and other progress in medicine and public health deserve due credit for this. It's stunning to reflect on how risky pregnancy was for mothers 100 years ago -- or even 50 years ago. At the beginning of the 20th century, for every 1000 live births, 6-9 mothers died of pregnancy-related complications. At the end of the century, the mortality rate had fallen so much that it is now measured in deaths per 100,000 live births. With a mortality rate of 7.7/100,000 in 1997, clearly childbirth was 100 times more riskier for our sisters at the turn of the last century.

Infant mortality, likewise, has improved at an astonishing rate. One in ten live-born infants died before the age of one at the beginning of the 20th century. As the century drew to a close, only one in approximately 139 babies born in the United States died before his or her first birthday. This is especially astonishing when you reflect that the end of the century, tiny premature infants that would have been tabulated as miscarriages at one time are now being counted as live births -- which means that our improvement in infant mortality has progressed even though we're trying to save infants who would have been given up for dead a century ago.

The bad news is that our public health officials are so enamored of abortion that they attempt to attiribute better public health to legalization of their favored activity:

The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973.

It's disengenuous, to say the least, to credit a few states loosening abortion restrictions starting in 1968 with the huge decline in septic illegal abortion deaths during the nearly twenty year period preceding the change. Abortion guru Christopher Tietze attributed the decline in abortion deaths during that period to improved abortion techniques (especially the development of vacuum aspiration), improved emergency care (including improved antibiotic and blood transfusion therapy), and a contraceptive-driven drop in unwanted pregnancies. If someone with Tietze's enthusiasm for abortion hesitated to lay this public health achievement on abortion's doorstep, one must wonder what is going on inside the heads of those folks at the CDC.

Of all the public health accomplishments from 1950 to 1973 -- improved antibiotics, improved access to blood products, broader access to adequate prenatal care, and improvements in environmental health, to name a few -- our public health employees at the CDC single out limited legalization of abortion.

To whom is credit actually due, if it is not due to abortionists and abortion agitators? Let's look at some factors.

1. At the beginning of the 20th century, many maternal deaths were due to one sad factor: inadequate childhood nutrition. Inadequate calcium and vitamin D, especially for city children, caused ricketts. This meant that women who developed ricketts as children had small and/or malformed pelvises. This caused obstructed labor, a major contributor to high maternal mortality. This problem has been virtually eliminated, along with most nutritionally-related complications of pregnancy and childbirth. For this, we should thank:

  • Public health officials who pushed for vitamin D fortification and pasteurization of milk

  • Farmers who increased the supply of milk and produce.

  • Agricultural officials who worked to improve the health of farm animals and to improve farm productivity.

  • Truck drivers and other transportation workers who brought the milk and produce from farm to city.

  • Inventors and entrepeneurs who made elctricity and refrigeration cheap and widely available so that milk, meat, and produce would stay fresh.

  • Planners and workers who built the highway system and other elements of the transportation infrastructure to facilitate the transport of milk,
    and fresh meat and produce, from farm to city.

  • Inventors and entrepeneurs who created jobs and raised the standard of living so that families could afford milk and fresh produce for their children.

  • Grocers who made all of these products available to consumers.

2. The biggest contributors to the reduction in septic deaths were the unglamorous enterprises of sanitation and hygiene. Less trash in the streets meant fewer rats and other vermin, fewer risks of disease. Running water, sewage treatment, and the widespread use of gas and electric stoves and water heaters made the basic healthy hygiene we take for granted available. For this, we should thank:

  • City planners who developed strategies for improving cleanliness of our urban areas.

  • Utility workers who keep our water running and hot.

  • Sanitation workers who expose themselves to the dangers of garbage-related diseases and in doing so, protect mothers and children.

  • Waste-management workers of all levels, who have eliminated the ages-old health hazards of, to put it daintily, "grey water."

3. Of course, medical advances played their vital roles. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to:

  • Joseph Lister and others who pioneered antiseptic technique that reduced septic compliations and made c-sections practical.

  • J.Y.Simpson and other pioneers of anesthesia who made c-sections and other surgery practical.

  • Ignaz Philip Semmelweiss, whose career was left a shambles by his fight to eliminate childbed fever, and those who took his advice and began the practice of simple hand-washing, which we take for granted, in attending laboring and postpartum women.

  • Researchers and pharmaceutical companies that made antibiotics, anti-coagulants, and other vital medicines available.

  • Doctors, nurses, and technicians who developed new medical technologies and worked to make them widely available.

  • Biomedical companies and workers for making everything from sterile bandages to high-tech monitoring and surgical equipment readily available.

  • Housekeepers, orderlies, and other non-glamorous but vital workers who keep the medical environment clean and sanitary.

When you reflect on the tremendous advances in public health, especially maternal and neonatal health, of the 20th Century, give credit where credit is due. Remember that it was our fellow citizens, working daily in often thankless and dangerous jobs, who wrought these miracles as much as doctors and medical pioneers. It is thanks to the trash collector, the worker out repairing the electrical lines in bitter weather, the farmer rising before dawn to milk the cows, the stock clerk stacking oranges in the supermarket, that we can so take it for granted that we will survive pregnancy and childbirth, and that our children will outlive their parents. The abortionists and their cheerleaders should learn a little humility.

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