Monday, July 22, 2013

Money, Superstition, and Vaccines

It was a place of death.

It was a place where women went to die for their sins.

It started with a fever in the maternity wards. That fever was accompanied by severe headaches, nausea, and bilious vomiting. The back, hips, and pelvic area were wracked with pain. Defecation was immediate and uncontrolled. Urination painful. Women's bellies swelled to enormous sizes.

After the fever ran for a few days, the disease acquired a more putrid form. Death was quick and painful. At the time, it was the single most common form of maternal mortality.

It is now very rare to die from this infection. Prevention was rather simple. The single most important factor for preventing this disease? Doctors in the maternity ward needed to wash their hands before examining patients.

But in the 1800's, they refused to wash them. European doctors and clergy were convinced that childbed fever was God's punishment to women for the act of childbirth. They didn't want to think of themselves as "dirty", even when some medical professionals like Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis desperately pointed out that using antiseptic soap reduced the number of deaths by a whopping 90%.

This fever, consequently, has been forever dubbed "The Doctor's Plague". Their adamant refusal of a truth they did not want to accept caused countless, needless deaths.

And now, in modern times, this scenario can happen again. Unfortunately, the sufferers will be our children.

The cause of Puerperal fever, aka childbed fever or "The Doctor's Plague".
There is a movement underfoot - a movement to reject modern science. You know them as the anti-vacciners. This movement is considered crazy and on the fringes of rational thought. It is not supported by science. And the people heading this movement? They rely on emotional appeal and deliberate misrepresentation of data. They do not possess medical degrees. They do not have studies of their own. Why go to all this trouble?

Because, I suspect, they want to sell you something.

They want to sell you unregulated drugs. They want to sell you books that sell because they're scandalous. They want to sell you the idea that waving a quartz crystal over your head will cure your cancer better than chemotherapy would. They want to take advantage of you when the doctors give you a realistic evaluation of your health, and you lie in bed at night trembling in fear. In doing so, they can make a very comfortable living. Furthermore, to protect their profits, they need to make the public distrust the very people who can expose them as the frauds they are.

There comes a point when we all need to champion scientific reason and advancement, no matter if we are scientists or not. There comes a point when we need to expose those who make fraudulent claims and make baseless assertions about subjects they know nothing about. We need to correct our friends and family. We need to have this conversation with as many people as possible.

We need to have this conversation now.

We are in a Golden Age, and life in the present has been the best it ever has been. Science can do truly wonderful things. It saves countless lives every day. Imagine how many lives it can save tomorrow. Imagine, if superstition wins, how many lives will be needlessly, painfully lost. Perhaps we'll return to the kind of thinking where death is rationalized because people deserve God's punishment.

In the moment we shut our eyes to science, we no longer deserve to reap its rewards.

And that, my friends, is not a place you want to be.

1 comment:

  1. I fully understand the interest in alternative medicines and such in order to fill in gaps that modern medicine cannot. However, everything should be taken with a great big block of salt, and risks should be weighed carefully before rejecting modern science completely for some bullshitty pseudo-science that could put you or others in harm's way. The anti-vaccine group makes me cringe so hard.

    By the way, this is your old fellow student Anna from NMT! I have a wordpress now that I post on occasionally, so I figure I should follow you. Nice to hear from you!