Letters to the Editor

Waldron's baby wasn't “nursed to death”; readers clash on condom ban.


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Letters to the Editor
May 27, 1999 4:00pm (UTC)

Nursed to death

BY KAREN HOUPPERT
(05/21/99)

As someone who has devoted my academic career to research on issues
of cultural beliefs related to infant/child feeding and child health, I was
very dismayed to see the inaccurate and misleading portrayal of
breast-feeding advocacy in this article. I am not aware of any doctors or
hospitals who put pressure on women to breast-feed or (to paraphrase) "peddle
breast-feeding as if bottle-feeding were tantamount to child abuse." In
fact, the opposite is standard -- mothers are reassured that bottle-feeding
with formula is the norm, and that while breast-feeding is "better" or even
"ideal," it really doesn't make a difference which one a mother chooses, as
their child will turn out just fine either way.

In the United States today, we expect mothers to do many things to
protect the health of their children. Every state has laws mandating infant
car seat use and immunizations. Doctors do "peddle" the use of car seats
and immunizations, and they "peddle" abstaining from smoking, drinking, and
illegal drug use while pregnant, just as they "peddle" weight loss and
exercise for people with high blood pressure or heart disease. Mothers are
made to feel guilty, and even prosecuted for child abuse, child neglect, or
reckless endangerment of a child, when they fail to meet minimum standards
of child care.

What makes bottle-feeding different is that it has become accepted as
the cultural norm, even though formula use carries many risks for children
-- higher rates of many diseases, not just in childhood, but throughout
life, including SIDS and cancer and diabetes and multiple sclerosis and
asthma, and the list goes on and on. Without question, doctors in the United States often do not have the training
they need to properly support breast-feeding, and parents often do not
have the information they need about the risks of formula feeding so they
can make an informed choice. Nevertheless, breast-feeding is important, it does matter, and we should be
working to change the broader cultural context to make it possible for more
women to breast-feed, not bashing the breast-feeding advocates.

-- Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Nutrition

Texas A&M University

Twenty years ago I delivered my third child. I was a nurse and I
believed in the benefits of breast-feeding. It seemed just the best and easiest thing to do. Suddenly at the
three-month well-baby visit I looked at my child with complete horror, seeing
for the first time something I had missed when I looked at him on a daily
basis. He had lost weight, his color was not good, and his skin seemed too
loose for his frame. It seemed impossible that I could have failed to notice. Though we had been regular
in our well-baby visits, his small weight loss at the last weigh-in had been
noted but not viewed as a cause for concern. But here in front of me was a
child who seemed to be seriously malnourished.

I immediately received a referral to a specialist, yet it still took weeks and weeks to find a formula
that my son thrived on. Milk curd and banana flake formula proved to be the
ultimate nourishment for him. He grew to be a healthy and robust adult. But
the memory of that horrible moment when I, a trained professional and
experienced mother, realized I had failed for weeks to notice that my child
was slowly wasting away, remains with me to this day. When I read the story
of this very young, first-time mother, who had far fewer resources and a much
more difficult-to-navigate medical system, I was enraged that we would choose
to punish her. It seems to me that she has been failed at every level of
society and then forced to pay a price personally for that failure.

The fault here is not simply the young mother, nor the emphasis
on breast-feeding. We all need to recommit to educating and raising our
children. There, but for the grace of God, might have gone many of us.

-- S. Quinn, RN

I can't help but wonder, Where are Jesse
Jackson and Al Sharpton? How could they let Tabitha go this road
alone? She is clearly a victim of a bureaucratic society which fails to
serve the lower class in an adequate manner. She is obviously a mother
who wanted nothing but the best for her child and showed no malicious
intent. After all, she carried her baby full term, delivered in a
hospital, sought prenatal care, took childbirth classes (which she paid
for), and was committed to breast-feeding. She did not deliver her
child at her high school prom, conceal her pregnancy from friends and
family, stuff her child in a toilet, leave him in a dumpster or abandon
him. Yet she is facing a harsher penalty than those white upper-class
teens from New Jersey and other negligent affluent teens who have
encountered unwanted pregnancies.

-- Sharna Borsellino

Boston

Tabitha and I are both young, African-American women who wanted the best for our babies. We both read a lot of information while pregnant, and took parenting classes to prepare for the arrival of our first
child. However, here the system failed Tabitha, it supported me. I come from a different
socio-economic background than Tabitha, but I wonder if I were
on public assistance and faced the barriers that she faced, would I not,
perhaps, be in the same situation.

The solution, I believe, is not to persecute and prosecute mother's that
are trying to give their babies the best, but to improve our medical
system so that at the very least those mothers in lower socioeconomic
situations have the same access to medical care and information that
those who have the ability to afford private insurance, medical care
and other services have. I do not think this concept was given coverage
in the article, and instead the article came across as an attack against
breast-feeding.

-- Camille Franklin

Washington

Death sentence?
BY DAWN MacKEEN

(05/20/99)

Dawn Mackeen missed one additional reason that condom distribution in America's prisons makes sense: high prison medical
bills. Inmates must receive proper medical treatment as a matter of constitutional law and the
drugs used to treat HIV and Hep-C infections are extremely expensive. Moreover,
ex-cons may need to continue treatment at taxpayer expense under Medicare or Medicaid.

If only 1 percent of inmates nationally require additional medical care to the
tune of $25,000 annually, that's nearly half a billion dollars every year! That kind of money
is equivalent to a whopping $250 in condoms for each and every inmate every year -- a mighty big
condom budget for a person. And that half a billion figure doesn't even factor in lost productivity
resulting in lost tax revenues, among many other costs.

The failure to distribute condoms in prisons is both a moral and economic outrage.

-- Timothy Sipples

Chicago

The underlying thought that I had while reading this article
was "Why aren't these individuals being held accountable for their actions?" The whole reason they are in prison in the first place is because they
have failed to be responsible for themselves. No one twisted their arm and
made them commit the crime that made them go to prison, and no one makes them have unprotected sex.

The buck has to stop somewhere. It is bad enough that my tax
dollars are supporting these scumbags because they were too lazy to earn an
honest living in the first place. The thought of buying them condoms to
enable a lifestyle that they lost a right to when they went to prison
infuriates me.

-- L.M. Gilliss

Guthrie, Okla.


Must dog eat dog?

SUSAN McCARTHY

(05/21/99)

Susan McCarthy has misread the literature on evolutionary psychology. She
thinks that writers like Robert Wright think that "selfish" genetic mandates
are inescapable, except possibly for humans with a unique intellect,
morality or religious sense. Wright himself spends a lot of time arguing
that evolution has left us with an instinct for cooperation (albeit one that
is finely tuned to pick up on freeloaders and cheats, and one that favors
relatives). Matt Ridley goes even farther in "The Origins of Virtue: Human
Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation." Writers haven't described man's
nature as "dog eat dog" or "red in tooth and claw" for a long time.
McCarthy's take on evolutionary psychology would seem to be as much a
distortion as Rockefeller's take on Darwinism.

-- Stephen Ross, M.D.

While McCarthy's article is very informative she fails to explicitly
clarify what Dawkins meant by a "selfish gene". This definition is very
important because this conception of gene selfishness can result in behavior
that is (or at least appears) to be altruistic in a social sense but selfish
in a genetic sense. This theory is summarized by saying that the organism
will evolve in such a way that ensures its genetic information gets passed
on to the next generation. Whether this organism has behavior that is
"altruistic" or is "selfish" in a social aspect is more of a byproduct of
what the organism evolved from and the environmental setting in which it
evolved and lives.

-- Keith Vanderpool

Chicago

Children should be interpreted and not heard
BY JAMES PONIEWOZIK
(05/20/99)

Gasp, people are responsible for their own actions? What kind of
anarchic filth is Salon starting to spread? I agree 100 percent, but I also feel
that the proliferation of weapons in our culture surely exacerbates the
problem. Controlling the flow of guns may not help much, but it sure as
hell can't hurt.

This country has a skewed and perverse culture in our high schools which
mirrors our adult society. Clique brutality helps train our kids for the
rough-and-tumble business world. And it is a damn shame. I am starting to
believe that the word "cool" is trying to compete with "God" in getting
people foolishly killed, abused, humiliated, mocked and left behind. "Cool"
kids tease and brutalize those who aren't like them. Always have. Always
will.

But in the end, yes, we must hold the individual responsible. Yes,
his kitty may have died when he was 4; yes, his girlfriend may have
dumped him; yes, his mom may have beaten his dad; yes he can get a gun out of a gumball machine these
days; yes, the rubber-headed TV anchor may have explained in detail how to
make a pipe bomb. But yes, if he goes to school and blows everyone away, he
will be responsible. We may know why he did it, but he made the choice. He
will have to pay.

-- Scott Raybern


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