May 16, 2013

Modern medicine and coffins for children

One of the biggest changes in the past century is that parents can now reasonably expect to see all of their children reach adulthood. That wasn't true before. Routine childhood deaths were something Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and the Buddha shared with each other. For example:

In the early days of photography, people had to hold still for minutes at a time for portraits, like mannequins. Young children, much like today, didn't tend to sit still, so those kids who did appear in family photos were typically dead ones. That was the only way to get photos of them. And there was no shortage: they died mostly from bacterial diseases treated today with antibiotics, viral infections now prevented by vaccines, and infections now controlled by better hygiene, nutrition, and overall health.

Sure, today's society is subjecting kids to environmental toxins and other things that cause rising rates of asthma and allergies, and other conditions that are unique to our increasingly artificial world, or that we're once masked by all the sickness and death we now avoid.

And yes, there are newer vaccines for which the preventative benefits are still being established. On another note, while chickenpox is rarely fatal, being immunized against it can also prevent the appearance of its much nastier counterpart shingles later in life. It is the same virus, re-emerging from decades of dormancy in the body.

Perhaps we need to improve the methods and timing with which we administer treatments to kids and ourselves in order to reduce the risks and maximize the benefits. It's important to be smart and cautious about what treatments you put in your body.

But don't avoid modern treatments and preventions altogether. We can't write off one of the greatest gifts that science has given us over the last hundred years: making it an ever-shrinking, niche industry to build coffins for children.

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