Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An old story?

I have just discovered something wonderful: The National Library of Australia's online database of Australian Newspapers from 1803 to 1954 (also available here). It really is a treasure trove! Here is an "old story" from The Mercury (Hobart) Monday 27 November 1933:
FOR at least a century and a quarter, the question of birth control has come periodically under notice. About the beginning of the eighteenth century some persons who today would be called "economists,'' and would hold positions on the teaching staffs of universities, made calculations and published them about the effect of the birth rate. They showed conclusively that unless something drastic were done the world would starve to death in less than 50 years...

The calculation was simple. They took the available figures regarding the increase in the birth rate and the figures relating to thc increase of the production of food, and were able, without difficulty, lo show that in another half century the world would be strewn with the skeletons of those millions who would have died. Absurd as that may sound today, the publication of these stories created a veritable panic in England and in other countries.

In these later days, since the discovery of what is called thc "science"' of eugenics, there is an agitation for compulsory birth control on the part of those who are supposed to be physically or mentally, or morally, unfit to breed human beings. The German Government is tackling the problem valiantly, but with the knowledge we have of Nazi ideals we may be permitted to wonder whether the selection of those, who may or may not have a part in bringing children into the world will be entirely judicious.

But now comes a new story which brings us back to the original idea. The people of the East are urged to restrict their population increases because thc rate is too high, and there is not enough food for them all. Control of money, control of trade, control of production and of prices, control, in fact, of every mortal thing in the life of men and women from the cradle to the grave is the keynote today of every policy put forward for the salvation of the world.

And now that it is said that there is too much production of food for the world, the cure is to be found in a still further restriction of the number of persons to be available for its consumption. Between eugenics and economics, this old world of ours is getting into a strange tangle of notions and plans.
Take good note of the date of this article. And then read this one on the same page:
Threat from the East
Vital Need of Civilisation
London. November 25.

"With India's increase of 34,000,000 persons in tho last 10 years, and Japan's four babies a minute in 1932, it ls time the red traffic light was turned eastward," says the president ot tho Birth Control International centre in a cablegram to the London conference discussing birth control in Asia under tho presidency of Lord Horder.

Professor Carr Saunders declared that birth control was a vital need of modern civilisation, but the problem was how small the family should be. It could be harmonised with communal needs. If there was not birth control the result would be disastrous. The leading question was whether the human race could be trusted with birth control, as there was danger of contraception threatening civilisation.

Dr. Dugsdale, a pioneer of the movement, said that over-population was tantamount to an excessive death rate, and abbreviation of the life span, owing to insufficiency of necessities and comforts. It was significant that both the
birth rate and death rate In Japan had increased since the era of Industrialisation. Limitation of the birth rate in India, China, and Japan was essential for the world's peace and tranquillity.

Mr. Eguehi, a Japanese delegate, said that his countrymen were interested on birth control. lt was easy for Westerners to scoff at Japan because of a low standard of living, but Japan would be only too glad if Britain had any scheme for bringing Japan's standard of living on equality with the West.
Again, note the date... Who was it who said that those who do not learn from th mistakes of history are condemned to repeat them?


At Wednesday, August 11, 2010 5:51:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

Not meaning to be obtuse, David, but what lesson are we to take from these articles?

At Wednesday, August 11, 2010 6:36:00 pm , Anonymous Paul G said...

FWIW, the lesson I draw is that while people were mulling over the populations futures of Germany and Japan in 1933, there were forces gathering that had nothing to do with population growth. It would have been better to spend more time addressing those forces rather than spending time discussing population trends, based on insufficient evidence.

At Wednesday, August 11, 2010 8:17:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...


At Wednesday, August 11, 2010 8:28:00 pm , Anonymous Matthias said...

Ilande Troth,who was a heroine of the Hungarian revolution and was hanged by the Communists said that "if we forget history ,it will grab us bt the throat"

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:45:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Interesting too that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, wanted both birth control and abortion to keep the population of the "coloured people" down.

GK Chesterton called birth control "no birth and no control." As hard as natural family planning is, "birth control" really is just hideous.

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 9:23:00 am , Anonymous Faz said...

Interesting too that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, wanted both birth control and abortion to keep the population of the “coloured people” down.

And yet the Wiki entry for Margaret Sanger has this quote:

"To each group we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way—no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun."

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 8:08:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

That's what happens when you start defending Margaret Sanger.

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 9:24:00 pm , Anonymous Louise said...

Which kind of contraception was she thinking of though? The Pill, IUD, implants (yuck!), injections etc all work, wholly or in part, by causing a very early abortion; "prevent a fertilised ovum from implanting"

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 10:48:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

Didn't the Disciple of Death once call African-Americans 'human weeds' - doesnt seem like the type of woman I would be running to defend, Tony.

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 10:50:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

So don't, Gareth. Neither will I.

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 11:46:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

Your 'spiritual blogging resolution' has been noted.

At Friday, August 13, 2010 3:11:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Thanks, Pere.

At Friday, August 13, 2010 3:11:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Ah yes, The Pill. Also a poison, I believe.

At Friday, August 13, 2010 3:13:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

My understanding (possibly incorrect) is that various herbs have been used by women over the centuries, mostly to induce miscarriage, or prevent implantation i.e. to cause an early abortion.

At Friday, August 13, 2010 4:22:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I think that's correct. At least one herb reputed to have this effect was harvested to extinction in ancient times. But it wasn't just herbs; ergot, for instance, is a fungus which was used to induce miscarriage.

Most of the preparations used worked in the threefold way I have described - prevent conception, prevent implantation, induce miscarriage - though they weren't 100% effective at doing any of these things. Birth control preparations were marketed as "mantaining monthly regularity" or "preventing menstrual supression". (As you can see, the use of euphemisms is not new.)

The women who took these preparations would mostly have had no idea how they worked or exactly what they did. Indeed, for a long time neither did the medical profession. The nature of conception, and the distinction between conception and implantation, for example, were wholly unknown until quite modern times.

Women generally reckoned that any precautions they took before or around the time of sexual intercourse prevented pregnancy. We might know that they did this in some cases by preventing the implantation of a fertilised ovum or by inducing very early miscarriage, but they did not know this.

Anything they did after they had experienced the symptoms of pregnancy they understood to induce a miscarriage, which was (socially and morally) viewed as a much more serious matter.

Preventing a pregnancy was socially disreputable, but only inducing a miscarriage was criminalised.

At Friday, August 13, 2010 8:48:00 am , Anonymous Peter said...

You are correct. In fact the 'magicians' referred to in Scripture are likely to be connected with this kind of practice. The Greek word is "pharmakoi" which is properly translated as "mixers of poisons." In Ancient Rome they were officially illegal until well after the time of Christ but fairly well frequented by the rich for love charms and potions for libido (cf. Viagra etc) as well as potions to prevent and terminate pregnancy.

You can find a detailed description of the medical knowledge of such mixtures, and also mechanical abortions, in Galen who wrote in the late 2nd century but refers to recipies from much earlier times.

We also have mention of recipes used for the same purposes in ancient Egypt, although we do not have accurate records of their composition or effectiveness, just the intention and application.

At Saturday, August 14, 2010 12:22:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Well, in fairness to the pharmakoi, the modern distinction between “medicine” and “poison” did not exist at the time. The modern term “drug” encompasses both senses, and perhaps we should think of the pharmakoi as a druggist (or drug-pusher?) Drugs work by disrupting natural bodily processes; in that sense they are [i]all[/i] poisons.

As well as selling contraceptive preparations and, ahem, “gentlemen’s restoratives”, the pharmakoi sold preparations for settling fevers, dressing wounds, treating stomach-ache or toothache, etc. A fair number of these were purgatives, laxatives or emetics – medical treatment was rough-and-ready, back in the day – and even those that weren’t were often pretty poisonous. And sometimes known to be so; a large dose of hemlock, for instance, was known to be fatal and was used as a method of execution, but smaller doses were used as painkillers, antispasmodics and sedatives, because at the appropriate dosage hemlock does produce numbness, paralysis or unconsciousness. Obviously, getting the dose right was crucial. But, of course, that remains true of may of the drugs that we use today, ranging from morphine all the way down to paracetamol.

At Saturday, August 14, 2010 2:00:00 am , Anonymous Clara said...

Eugenics is alive and well in Australia. My sister had to change obstetricians after a diagnosis of Down's Syndrome in her unborn child. She had arguments with the specialist cardiologist - who also thought abortion a more sensible option and then had to deal with other healthcare professionals - speech therapists, physiotherapists, etc. who made her feel that she had no right to complain about her lot in life because she made the choice to carry the child to term so she should put up with the difficulties!

At Sunday, August 15, 2010 5:59:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...



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