Sunday, 1 February 2015

Choosing for one's children: medical necessity and harm

As I write this, the USA is experiencing its first measles epidemic in roughly fifteen years. Fifteen years in which every US citizen, adults, children and infants alike, could be confident that they would most likely never have to experience the consequences of a measles infection. As recent as the late 1950s - before the measles vaccine was introduced - about 450 children a year would die from the measles, with another 4,000 developing encephalitis which all too often resulted in brain damage, blindness or related. In contrast, serious complications from the measles vaccine (MMR) occur in less than one million children who receive it and even this is rarely fatal.

In light of all this, it then seems astounding that parents would choose to not have their children vaccinated against measles. Why are they so horrifically cruel that they'd willingly and knowingly risk their child's life and health in such a callous manner? Is it mere ignorance? With the US having turned decisively anti-science in the past decades, faith in what scientists and thus medical professionals as well say about vaccination is thus regarded with more scepticism than seems acceptable, while wild-eyed, unsubstantiated claims made by fraudulent doctors and ignorant celebrities are embraced unquestioningly.

It all seems to be part of a wider movement within society, where one insane diet after another takes hold. From gluten-free, low-carb, paleo, raw-only and so on, despite there not being any science to back up the benefits of such diets, thousands of people eagerly embrace them and proclaim their benefits. The focus seems to be on 'natural foods' being good and anything else being 'unhealthy', even though this statement is - even at face value - too ridiculous to even begin to analyse. Nothing we eat today can be called 'natural' in the sense that a farmer from a few thousand years ago would not recognize most, if any, of the crops we grow today.

Yet science is not reliable and not trustworthy and thus carefully manipulated, monitored and validated crops are shunned in favour of crops whose genetic selection was more of a shotgun method, all too often using forced mutations induced through exposure to radiation sources. The anti-vaccination sentiment is just another chapter in this insanity which seems to find such fertile ground in today's society, fuelled by a media which seems more than eager to tell people what they want to hear.

Vaccines are supposed to be full of 'toxins' and have various ill effects if they don't cause diseases outright. This is a lie eagerly believed by many despite the ingredients of vaccines being publicly known, verified by countless scientists and open to actual scrutiny by non-scientists. This even before we look at the many decades of actual data from vaccine use and the (also publicised) incidences of side-effects from vaccines. Despite all this openness about the facts, people still insist on believing the lies fed to them by frauds intent on making money of their gullibility. That these are parents who will risk their children's well-being based upon these lies is clearly of no concern.

This is also the crux of the whole issue. What business do parents have deciding about the medical well-being of their offspring? Are they physicians? Did they study medicine? In what way, form or shape are they qualified to make this decision for their children on vaccinations? All based on the fact that they are legally registered as the guardians of said children? That appears to be a rather slim justification for a decision which will decide the faith of these children for the rest of the lives, if it doesn't doom them to an early death, as in the case of the American child who already died from measles complications.

I have had to deal with similar questions for years already, albeit from a different perspective. The issue here is that of physicians giving clearly the wrong advice: namely to perform 'normalization' surgeries on children who are born intersex, i.e. with ambiguous genitals. This is an issue where despite the physician in question being supposedly qualified, most astoundingly gives the completely wrong information, trying to push the parent(s) of the child into accepting a procedure which will most likely cause untold sorrow to the child as it grows up into an adult. How can one rhyme this with the earlier situation involving vaccines. Are we right to question physicians as much as we do on vaccines, or are we wrong to not question physicians more on their attitude towards intersex infants?

The answer, I feel, lies in looking beyond the people. Beyond the physicians. Any answer one needs is found in the actual data produced as a result of people's actions over the years. For vaccines we can see an astounding success in the form of an incredibly decrease in deaths, injuries and hospitalizations, as well as one completely eliminated disease (smallpox). Everything there makes it abundantly clear that vaccines are an awesome thing and that we should embrace them, without exception. It's a completely positive thing for children and they should receive all the common vaccines as soon as they're old enough.

For normalization surgeries there's less complete data let alone studies, as it's still very much a taboo subject with the topic of intersex bathing in ignorance, even among physicians. Despite this the evidence seems to back up that these surgeries are virtually always harmful. Especially how the gender is selected for a child is at best unscientific, as one's genetic make-up says absolutely nothing about one's gender preferences, as evidenced for example by transsexuals. The only person in this situation who knows what the right choice is is the child itself and thus the answer here is to wait until the child can state its choice. Neither the parents, nor the physicians get to make a choice here. That'd be unethical and amoral.

The sad thing is that we so readily accept or even fight over whether the parents or physicians are 'in the right', when all one has to do is to look beyond this front and do the science.

Maybe that's the worst tragedy of all among this anti-vaccination and gender-normalization insanity: the loss of faith in science, preferring to pick personal opinion and gut-feeling over scientific facts and data. Neither parents nor physicians get to decide. Only the facts do.


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