Posts Tagged ‘Medical Progress’

What it means to be truly pro-life

August 16, 2015

In 2010, a woman named Sarah Gray gave birth to identical twin boys.  One of them had birth defects and died after a few days.  She and her husband Ross donated the Thomas’s eyes and liver, along with cord blood from Thomas and his twin brother Callum, for scientific research.

A few years later Sarah and Ross Gray learned what use had been made of their child’s remains.

The Schlepens Eye Research Institute in Boston used Ross’s eyes in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for corneal blindness.

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas.  Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Thomas’s retinas were given to the University of Pennsylvania, where they were used in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for retinoblastoma, the most common form of eye cancer in children.   The retina tissue is so valuable that some of it is being saved for future research.

Researchers at the Duke University Center for Human Genetics found subtle genetic differences in the cord blood that might help explain anencephaly, the genetic defect that killed Thomas.  The liver went to a biotech company named Cytonet, which used it to study the best way to freeze liver tissue.

Sarah Gray, who already had worked in public relations for non-profit organizations, became director of marketing for the American Association of Tissue Banks.

The Grays’ decision to donate their baby’s remains for scientific research shows what it means to be truly pro-life.


Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact by Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gray’s Donation, a Radiolab broadcast.

One reason I’m glad I’ve lived when I have

May 20, 2013
Death rates per 1 million people.  Source: CDC

Death rates per 1 million Americans.   Click to enlarge.  Source: CDC

I came across the top chart when I was looking for something else.  It reminded of my childhood in the 1940s, when it was common for children to be laid up with measles, whooping cough, chicken pox and other “childhood diseases.”  I was lucky.  The only one I got was measles.  I also was lucky in that these diseases were rarely fatal, which was not the case everywhere, either then or now.

The chart shows the death rate from infectious diseases starting to creep back up a little after 1980.  I couldn’t find charts of infectious disease death rates in the 21st century, but my guess is that the death rate has continued to rise, because of natural selection producing disease germs that resist antibiotics and because of new forms of infectious disease such as AIDS.  This doesn’t mean that progress is an illusion, only that it requires a continuing effort.

I still feel lucky to have lived when I have.


Click to enlarge.   Source: New England Journal of Medicine

One reason for the lowering of the American death rate during the last century is that public health has been regarded as a public responsibility.  If availability of vaccination and sanitation had been limited to those who could afford to pay for it, the improvements shown on these charts would not have taken place.  It also is a fact that the big breakthroughs in medicine, such as Alexander Fleming’s discovery that penicillin is an antibiotic or Jonas Salk’s development of the Salk vaccine for polio,  came from researchers working in the public sector.

Hat tip for the top chart to Ezra Klein.

What we died of, then and now

June 28, 2012

I am thankful I live in such an age of progress in medicine and public health.  The chart above shows the top 10 causes of death in the United States, in 1900 and 2010, as reported by the New England Journal of Medicine.  Nephropathy is kidney disease.  Cerebrovascular disease is stroke.

Infectious diseases such as diphtheria and influenza are no longer a major cause of death.  Tuberculosis has been conquered.  Alzheimer’s disease has replaced “senility.”   But diabetes is now a major cause of death.  Heart disease and cancer took more lives in 2010 than in 1900.  I don’t know how much that is due to bad diet, smoking and lack of exercise, and how much is due to the fact that more of us live long enough to die of these characteristic diseases of old age.

In all, though, I’m glad I live now rather than a century ago.

Click on The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine for the full article.  Hat tip to Wonkblog.