Posts Tagged ‘Infant mortality’

In Sweden “abortion rights” come into conflict with “rights to conscience”

April 27, 2015

There are no such things as “absolute” human rights. There are only privileges which various societies variously deem to be the rights of their members (and sometimes of their non-members). “Rights” are nothing more than “privileges” granted by a body which claims the authority to grant such privileges. Very often such “rights” are granted even though the body granting the privilege has not the power or capability to ensure the privilege, even where the body is a State and has introduced legislation about it.

(I note in passing that no Law of God or Man ensures – or can ensure – compliance with the Law. It is only the Laws of Nature which enjoy 100% compliance and where compliance is inherent within the existence of the Law. Which suggests to me that the Laws of Nature rank higher than the Law of any god or of any man).

I do not look to any body or society to grant me the “right” to have an opinion (or to think or to breathe for that matter). I just have opinions on virtually everything but I claim no “right” that others must listen to or pay any attention to my opinions. And even if every other person disagrees, it remains my opinion. Opinions are neither right or wrong – they exist in a cognitive space which is undisturbed by rightness or wrongness. And so I have opinions also about abortion and infanticide and eugenics. I take “life” as originating from parents and passing from their sperm and eggs to the conception of a new identity and then a birth as all being part of the same continuum. I think a new “identity” is created at the moment of conception and am therefore uncertain as to

…. what is it that makes aborting a foetus and preventing a child from being born much less disturbing than terminating the existence of that same child after birth?

Whether to have an abortion or not is entirely a matter for the woman concerned – in my opinion. Whether others should assist her or not is a matter for them – in my opinion. But in Sweden where the State has determined that abortion is a “privilege” it has granted under certain circumstances, it has also – to try and ensure compliance – made it a duty and obligatory for health care workers to assist in such abortions. And that impinges on the “rights” of those workers in their choice whether to help or not.

Swedish Radio:

The abortion issue can sail up as a conflict area within the conservative Alliance parties. The new Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor has reiterated the call for a conscience clause. But the proposal was rejected by the Liberal Party leader Jan Björklund. “It is not reasonable. Health care operates under legislation to be able to perform abortions under certain criteria and conditions. Then the staff who are in health care must perform accordingly” says Jan Björklund.

The Christian Democrats have long called for the introduction of a conscience clause which would means that midwives who do not want to perform abortions should be able to avoid it. But the previous party leadership with Göran Hägglund at the top, decided not to pursue the matter.

Ebba Busch Thor, who yesterday was elected as the new Christian Democrats leader, has in several interviews in recent months raised the conscience clause and she now wants to get the party to run with it. This would then be a change of course for the Christian Democrats.

If this is what happens Busch Thor can expect to meet resistance from Alliance colleague Jan Björklund. “For the Liberal Party this is not an issue. We are different parties and of course we have different views on some issues. It’s nothing new. Then if the Christian Democrats intend to pursue this type of question harder, we would of course have discussions in the Alliance” he said.

Anna Starbrink, the Liberal Party’s strong woman in Stockholm and responsible for health care is upset. “The woman’s right to abortion must be that which rules. There can be no doubt about it. If a woman seeks an abortion, she should not be questioned and met by staff who refuse to perform their duties. It nibbles the right to abortion at the edges. If it hampers women from getting an abortion, the law would have been sidelined” says Anna Starbrink.

In Sweden abortion is available “on demand” upto the 18th week of pregnancy. Between the 18th and 22nd week permission is needed from the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen). In very special cases, later abortions are permitted if the foetus is not viable.

Currently around 25% of all known pregnancies in Sweden end in abortion. It is interesting to compare this figure with infant mortality rates (infant deaths in the first year after after birth). In today’s Sweden this figure is at about 0.3%. But todays abortions are comparable to the infant mortality rates of 300 years ago:

High infant mortality rates plagued communities throughout Europe until the beginning of the twentieth century. Even in the middle of the 1800s, a quarter of all babies born in many European countries died before their first birthday. At the start of the nineteenth century in France, less than one half of children lived to be ten years old. In Sweden as a whole, the infant mortality rate in the late 1700s was about twenty percent.

Medical science it would seem has enabled the dramatic reduction in infant mortality and has also enabled an equivalent increase in the number of abortions. After-birth, involuntary termination of life has been replaced by a before-birth, voluntary termination.

While it seems logical that every women decide for herself if she wishes to have an abortion or not, it does not seem logical – to me – that others should be forced – coerced by the threat of losing their jobs – to participate in her decision.

Does the Swedish “right to have an abortion” override the individual’s “right to have a conscience”?

In Norway, more sun correlates to reduced inherited fertlity and greater infant mortality

January 10, 2015

There is a new intriguing paper from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU):

G. R. Skjaervo, F. Fossoy, E. Roskaft. Solar activity at birth predicted infant survival and women’s fertility in historical Norway. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2015; 282 (1801): 20142032 DOI:10.1098/rspb.2014.2032

Researchers studied Norwegian church records of 9,000 people from the period 1750-1900 and looked at life history variables and compared them with environmental factors including solar activity.

NTNU Press Release: Skjærvø and her colleagues found that children born in the years with lots of solar activity had a higher probability of dying compared to children who were born in the years with less solar activity.

On average, the lifespan of children born in years that had a great deal of solar activity was 5.2 years shorter than other children. The largest difference was in the probability of dying during the first two years of life.

Children who were born in years with lots of sunshine and who survived were also more likely to have fewer children, who in turn gave birth to fewer children than others. This finding shows that increased UV radiation during years of high solar activity had an effect across generations.

Skjærvø used information on the number of sunspots as an indication of the amount of UV radiation in a given year. The number of sunspots reaches a maximum every 11 years on average, which results in more UV radiation on Earth during years with high sunspot and solar activity.

UV radiation can have positive effects on human vitamin D levels, but it can also result in a reduction of vitamin B9 (folate). It is known that low folate levels during pregnancy are linked to higher child mortality.

The NTNU study showed that families from the lowest socio-economic groups were most affected by UV radiation. This is probably related to the time period Skjærvø studied, which was a time of clear class distinctions in Norway, especially in rural areas. Women who worked in the fields were more exposed to the sun than other women. In many cases they also had a poorer diet.

If the primary mechanism for such connections is through UV radiation, then it presumably does not have the same impact on those with darker skin. But I suppose that the records from tropical or equatorial regions are not as comprehensive or reliable as old Norwegian church records.

Decline of Indian fertility rates is accelerating but some worrying demographics

December 23, 2014

Just over a year ago the average fertility rate in India was 2.5 (where the replenishment level is 2.1) and over half the country was at levels below 2.1. With corresponding declines in infant mortality the projections were for population to reach a peak between 2040 and 2050 and to decline slowly thereafter. But new data for 2013 from the Registrar General shows that fertility is declining faster than expected. The average is already down to 2.3. By 2020 the country as a whole will have an average fertility rate below the 2.1 needed for maintaining a constant population (the replenishment rate). However, infant mortality rate has declined slower than expected. India’s population will therefore likely peak closer to 2040 than 2050.

The HinduThe 2013 data for the Sample Registration Survey (SRS), conducted by the Registrar General of India, the country’s official source of birth and death data, was released on Monday.

India Fertility 2013 - graphic The Hindu

India Fertility 2013 – graphic The Hindu

The SRS shows that the Total Fertility Rate – the average number of children that will be born to a woman during her lifetime – in eight States has fallen below two children per woman, new official data shows.

Just nine States – all of them in the north and east, except for Gujarat – haven’t yet reached replacements levels of 2.1, below which populations begin to decline. West Bengal now has India’s lowest fertility, with the southern States, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Among backward States, Odisha too has reduced its fertility to 2.1.

“At 2.3, India is now just 0.2 points away from reaching replacement levels. Fertility is declining rapidly, including among the poor and illiterate. At these rates, India will achieve its demographic transition and reach replacement levels as early as 2020 or 2022,” Dr. P. Arokiasamy, a demographer and Professor at the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, explained to The Hindu.

Some of the demographics are worrying.

  1. The ratio of women to men is low (average 909 women per 1000 men). Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have women /men ratios of less than 900 per 1000. I suspect that it is these states which have the lowest levels of emancipation of women and tend to have the highest fertility rates as well. It is clearly the level of development in the state – and not least the emancipation of women – which impacts the fertility rate.
  2. The shortage of women in urban areas (Delhi – 887/ 1000), is probably also due to the general shift of young males seeking employment from rural to urban areas. I wonder if this is also one of the contributing causes for the higher incidence of rape and sexual harassment in places like Delhi.
  3. Countrywide, the mortality rates for infants and children upto 5 years old is higher for girls than for boys.
  4. Abortion rates for female foetuses are also higher than for male foetuses.

Eugenics by default: Abortion is of greater significance now than infant mortality ever was

March 6, 2014

We determine the demographic future – almost unthinkingly – by the patterns of child-bearing and child-rearing that we practise today. Population and its composition for the next 100 years or so has already been determined. The Chinese population has started declining and will continue to do so till at least 2100. The Indian population will reach its peak around 2050 and will then decline. The “aging” of populations and the increase of longevity has also been fixed. Demographic “robustness” is critically dependent on maintaining the ratio of the “working” population to the “supported” population (the young and the old). The US is maintaining its demographic sustainability by means of immigration in the face of declining fertility rates. Some countries in Europe are doing the same. Many do not since maintaining  some form of “racial purity” is an undercurrent in many societies and fuels the resistance to immigration – even with dangerous declines in fertility rates. Japan is facing an aging crisis as immigration is resisted. The numbers are inexorable.

Fitness to survive after birth is no longer of significance in the survival stakes. All around the world societies see to it that those with disabilities – once born – are protected. The further evolution of humans will now increasingly be the result of

  1. artificial selection for particular genetic traits, and
  2. the deselection of individuals who have been conceived but are not allowed to be born or to survive and reproduce.

It is my contention that we are in fact – directly and indirectly –  exercising an increasing amount of genetic control in the selection and deselection of our offspring. So much so that we already have “eugenics by default” being applied to a significant degree in the children being born today.

The numbers tell the tale.

One of the key measures of the advances of medical science has been the drastic reduction of infant mortality rates (defined here as deaths after birth but before the age of one year). In the 16th and 17th century this was about 30% of all births (an estimate based on a dearth of data). Since 1950 this rate has dropped from about 15% of all births to around 4% today. The variation is still very high with the current rate being as high as 12% in Afghanistan and 11% in Niger but less than 0.2% in Monaco. By 2050, as development in Africa proceeds, this global rate is expected to have dropped to about 2% (20 per 1000 live births).

It is more difficult to define miscarriages. After fertilisation of an egg it seems that perhaps 50 – 70% fail to attach themselves to the uterus wall and these would not even be considered – or even show up – as a pregnancy. I take such “miscarriages” to be failures of conception. Taking attachment to the uterine wall and the establishment of a fetal heartbeat as being a successful conception, around 10% still result in a miscarriage today.

In 2012 about 135 million babies were born (7 billion population and crude birth rate of 19.15 per 1000 of total population). Worldwide induced abortions numbered about 45 million (estimate). One third of all successful conceptions were not allowed to reach birth.

Economist:  It fell precipitously in the 1990s, but recently the rate has not budged, barely dipping from 29 abortions per 1,000 women (aged 15 to 44) in 2003 to 28 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008. Eastern Europe has the highest abortion rate in the world, at 43 per 1,000. The geography of abortions has also shifted. In 2008, 86% of abortions were in the developing world, up from 78% in 1995.

(Note! the number per 1000 women of child bearing age is different to the number per 1000 live births).

The current status then is:

  • Of 1000 successful conceptions (fetal heartbeat established)
  • less than 20 are by IVF
  • 100 are miscarried before birth
  • 330 are aborted before birth
  • 570 live births result
  • 22 do not survive beyond one year
  • 548 survive beyond 12 months
  • 3 do not survive beyond 5 years
  • About 540 – 545 live to child bearing age

Four hundred years ago miscarriage rates (after successful conception) were probably around 20% of live births and infant mortality rates were about 30%, such that only 50% of all successful conceptions led to children surviving up to their first birthdays.

The picture today is not so different. About 55% of all successful conceptions lead to children surviving beyond one year.

Without moralising about abortion – which I am not qualified to do – as far as the numbers are concerned, infant mortality of 400 years ago has effectively been replaced by abortion today. Deselection which took place in the first year after birth has been shifted to the period after conception but before birth. From a genetic perspective and since there is an element of “selection” in every abortion, abortions today are of greater evolutionary and demographic significance than infant mortality ever was.

Nutrition rather than genetics when it comes to height over the last 100 years

September 2, 2013

Nutrition – and especially nutrition in the early years of life – has dominated the development of human height over the last 100 years. An average growth of 11 cm in the last 100 years. One hundred years is just over 5 generations and far too short a time for Darwinian genetics to have had any significant impact. This increase in height, rather than being hampered, actually accelerated during 2 World Wars and the Great Depression in the 15 European countries studied.

But now as the height impact of improved nutrition plateaus, perhaps the next 100 years and five generations of fast food will bring an 11cm increase in human width!!

In the “nature” versus “nurture” debate it only convinces me further that for all genetic traits, the particular set of genes in an individual only provides a Bell curve of the available framework for the expression of that trait. And there will be a Bell curve for each “trait” which is genetically determined. Thereafter it is “nurture” and/or the existing environment which determines the level to which that trait is expressed.

Nature and Nurture

Nature and Nurture

Science Codex: 

The average height of European males increased by an unprecedented 11cm between the mid-nineteenth century and 1980, according to a new paper published online today in the journalOxford Economic Papers. Contrary to expectations, the study also reveals that average height actually accelerated in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Timothy J. Hatton, Professor of Economics at the University of Essex and the Research School of Economics at Australian National University in Canberra, examined and analysed a new dataset for the average height (at the age of around 21) of adult male birth cohorts, from the 1870s to 1980, in fifteen European countries. The data were drawn from a variety of sources. For the most recent decades the data were mainly taken from height-by-age in cross sectional surveys. Meanwhile, observations for the earlier years were based on data for the heights of military conscripts and recruits. The data is for men only as the historical evidence for women’s heights is severely limited.

Professor Hatton said, “Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations. The evidence suggests that the improving disease environment, as reflected in the fall in infant mortality, is the single most important factor driving the increase in height. The link between infant mortality and height has already been demonstrated by a number of studies.” Infant mortality rates fell from an average of 178 per thousand in 1871-5 to 120 per thousand in 1911-15. They then plummeted to 41 in 1951-5 and 14 in 1976-80.

In northern and middle European countries (including Britain and Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and Germany) there was a “distinct quickening” in the pace of advance in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression. This is striking because the period largely predates the wide implementation of major breakthroughs in modern medicine and national health services. One possible reason, alongside the crucial decline in infant mortality, for the rapid growth of average male height in this period was that there was a strong downward trend in fertility at the time, and smaller family sizes have already been linked with increasing height.

Other factors in the increase in average male height include an increased income per capita; more sanitary housing and living conditions; better general education about health and nutrition (which led to better care for children and young people within the home); and better social services and health systems.

Source: Oxford University Press

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