For more than ten years, my pediatric colleagues and I here in Oregon have conducted a poll of sorts.
Every eleven- or twelve-year-old, once measured then roomed, is given a questionnaire to complete while waiting for the doctor. Within this survey screening for signs of mental, physical or academic stress is planted the question, “What career aspirations do you have?”
In other words, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Death is one of the human constants. Fear of it is another.
It is not the being dead we’re afraid of – it’s the dying, most of all the bad death. We don’t want to suffer. We don’t want to linger. We don’t want to be in pain. We don’t want our loved ones to be in pain.
Who would deny that the sweetest fortune is to die in one’s sleep? Or that to die at home, tucked in our own bed, is to die for? We should all be so lucky to die instantly, rather than by degrees.
There are more or less two thousand children in my pediatric medical practice. No fewer than thirty are the children of same-gender couples. Some are adopted, some the biological offspring of one of the parents from a previous heterosexual relationship, and some were conceived by artificial insemination. All are loved and treasured, as all children should be.
Which is why I was stunned this week when a parent, whose child had been called back as one of my same-gender couples was exiting, asked me in a whisper as the nurse was weighing his child how it was that I could "condone" children being raised "unnaturally". "I feel bad for that kid (a boy), having two moms and no dad", he said.
I answered that I didn't feel bad at all for him, that he had two parents who loved him very much, and that little else mattered. He looked at me as if I had two heads, shook his slightly, and we moved on to his child's appointment.
I am haunted recently by the ghosts of two fathers. Each in life had three children, each child long and still my patient. No longer able to see a light at the tunnel’s end, both fathers this winter took their own life.
I crave to be rid of them, these specters, but they will not leave me until I consider, and you, why they quit life having left unfinished so much that they had set out to do.
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. A seemingly healthy baby is put down for a nap, or for the night. The child is assumed well and in a protected environment. The caregiver feels secure, their world in order.
Suddenly, everything is turned upside down. The baby is found dead, the cause a total mystery. Often, the infant is fed normally just before being placed in bed. No outcry is heard, and the infant is found in the position he or she was placed.
Families in America today come in all shapes and sizes. Be they unwed mothers raising children alone, divorced or separated parents raising their children in split fashion, remarried parents raising their children and stepchildren, or grandparents parenting again, American families of the 21st century are more diverse than the one-mom, one-dad, 2.1-children model of yesteryear.
And yet Americans give almost no second thought to this bewildering variety of nontraditional family structures, with one exception: the same-gender parent family structure.
A friend – a good one, at that, one who could ask such a question and deserve more than a turned back and some choice words – today challenged "why do you still keep up hope, still buy that stuff about change?" Clearly this friend, who canvassed and called and contributed for Barack Obama in 2008, had been swept away by the rising waters of negative news that powers the turbines of our modern media.
I couldn’t quickly think of what to say, of how to answer his challenge. I wanted at first to list out the many accomplishments of Obama’s still-young presidency, to overwhelm my friend with evidence and reason and proof that Barack Obama was well on his way – with some notable exceptions – towards fulfilling his long list of campaign promises. Progress has indeed been made, shifts admittedly perhaps more visible to the optimist than to the impatient.
Fumbling still to answer, my friend visibly smug that he’d befuddled me and burst my hope balloon, I finally settled on three words as my reply: "I still believe".
Letters to the editor are great advocacy tools. They reach a large audience. They are often monitored by elected officials. They can bring up information not addressed in a news article. And they can create an impression of widespread opposition or support to an issue or candidate.
Over the years, I have written many letters to the editor, about four-fifths of which (around about 125 to date) have been published. I am often asked for tips on how to write a good letter to the editor (LTE).
The first thing I tell people is to remember that, depending on the newspaper, between only ten and twenty-five percent of letters get printed. Therefore, it is important for writers not to give up if your first attempt does not get printed.
Death is one of the human constants. Fear of it is another.
It is not the being dead we’re afraid of – it’s the dying. We don’t want to suffer. We don’t want to linger. We don’t want to be in pain. We don’t want our loved ones to be in pain.
Who would deny that the sweetest fortune is to die in one’s sleep? Or that to die at home, tucked in one's own bed, is to die for? We should all be so lucky.
In 1998, a British physician by the name of Andrew Wakefield joined twelve co-authors in publishing a report in the British medical journal The Lancet describing twelve children with an ASD and gastrointestinal symptoms. In eight cases, parents reported that the symptoms began within two weeks after the children received the MMR vaccine.
Wakefield and his colleagues hypothesized that this might be a new type of autism, characterized by gastrointestinal symptoms and developmental regression caused by the MMR vaccine. No proof was offered of a link, and the study group was so small as to be almost meaningless. Nevertheless, the news media picked up the title of the report ("Vaccine may trigger disease linked to autism"), and the rest, as they say, is history.
Yes, I know that we’re not there yet, that we’ve not yet broken the tape, that we cannot yet pop the cork and pour the bubbly.
I know that Congress might yet stumble and spill in these remaining few yards before the finishing line, before the garden ceremony, before the signing pen.
And I know that the medal won after this decades-long race has been fashioned bronze, and not pure gold, its luster tarnished by so much political corrosion.
Nevertheless, to all those here who’ve worked tirelessly, selflessly, and with cautious though determined optimism – never losing sight of the prize – I thank you. We're almost there, thanks to people like you.
On March 14th, I detailed the latest in a series of blows to the anti-vaccine movement, which occured last Friday when three judges ruled in three separate cases that thimerosal, a common preservative found in some vaccines up until January 2003, does not cause autism. The three rulings were the second step in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding begun in 2002 in the United States Court of Federal Claims. The proceeding combines the cases of more than 5,000 families with autistic children seeking compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
I felt compelled, as a physician, to write a follow-up piece opining on vaccines, and vaccine safety. This is an issue sure to move further toward the front of public consciousness sometime this year, when anti-vaccinationist Jenny McCarthy launches her new talk show, produced by Oprah Winfrey's production company, Harpo.