From Dr. Letitia Fairfield
SIR.—As a medical officer with some slight knowledge of the health of London mothers, I share Fr. Woodlock's bewilderment at the statements emanating from the " Pioneer Health Centre." London mothers and London children have as good a health record as those of any large city in Europe or America, and better than those in many country districts. The amazing assertion that only eight out of 500 were found " fit for pregnancy " reflects rather on the competence or good sense of the medical examiners than on the health of the women concerned. To say that they needed an " increase of vitality " to produce " completely healthy " babies is simply meaningless. From a study of the report we can only suppose some hypothetical ideal standard of normal health is being adopted. There is no evidence given in any publication yet issued by the Peckham Health Centre or elsewhere, that the attainment of such a standard is necessary for the production of healthy children. During 1937 the infantile mortality of the Borough of Camberwell (in which the clinic is situated), touched the very low figure of 58 per 1,000. The maternal mortality figure was 1.84 per 1,000 and this included " associated " deaths not directly due to childbirth. This is an extremely low rate for any kind of mother.
One does not need to be morbidly apprehensive of birth-control propaganda to be concerned at the effect of these alarming reports on the 492 women who were told they were unfit for motherhood until treatment had been obtained to " build up their resources." The Centre makes great play with its efforts to maintain an expectancy of normal health in the mother's mind (as of course all reputable ante-natal clinics do already), but the discovery of the 492 lame ducks is much more likely to produce hypochondriasis.
The public is being asked to subscribe £7,000 a year (in which we are told £4,000 must be raised by Christmas), to maintain the Centre in addition to the subscription amounting to £2 12s. per annum charged to each family joining. When thousands of the unemployed are living on a bare subsistence level and hundreds of thousands of children in Spain and China are starving, it is difficult to see why Catholics should help to provide an expensive club for a limited and arbitrarily selected group of Londoners. Surely families can be healthy and happy without having luxurious swimming baths, gymnasia and club-rooms, etc., provided for them by public subscription. I have been surprised to find that so much Catholic support has been given to an enterprise which strikes me as singularly unCatholic. Approval is certainly given to " the family" as an ideal, but the tone of the report in dealing with the poor of Peckham—whom I know as sturdy and self-reliant people—is extremely patronising.
1, Raymond Buildings,
Grays Inn, W.C.1.