by MARY VAUGHAN
The Pill on Trial by Paul Vaughan (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 36s.)
"OPTIMISTS can see in the story of the contraceptive pill one of the greatest boons ever conferred on humanity by science, a discovery which solves easily and agreeably the individual's problem of family spacing, and simultaneously offers a way of slowing down the frightening rate of population increase all over the world.
"Pessimists see something else: a supreme example of scientific arrogance, with its reckless interference with a vital process of nature for the sake of a short-term gain, and its assumption that a mechanism as fundamental as human reproduction can be continuously put out of action by synthetic chemicals.
"Between the two points of view are the women, nearly twenty million of them, who take the pill," Thus Mr. Vaughan (no relation!) sets out a very balanced statement of both sides of the case; and the intensive programme of interviews conducted with all those involved is scrupulously fair and factual.
No other drug in history has been so thoroughly researched and written about as the Pill (of which there are many versions) and Mr. Vaughan records its brief and troubled 12year history. Some of the investigations involving the use of mentally al patients make uneasy reading; and he deals briefly and charitably with Humortae Vitae and very fairly with its effect on Catholic attitudes; he might have named very many other eminent Catholic opponents of the encyclical than Dr. Rock.
He gently indicts the medical profession on various relevant issues: their lack of co-operation in producing the statistics necessary for effective assessment, especially the figures on side-effects and pill-failure (though he makes clear why, for U.S. doctors particularly, quoting the latter is a potential danger); and the haphazard and uncontrolled prescribing of many doctors. He also regrets the inability, because of lack of suitable training. of most doctors to counsel their patients on sex problems, of which the need for a contraceptive may be a relatively minor one.
Mr. Vaughan is particularly
interesting on the reactions of men to the use of a male contraceptive—even men involved in the research and prescribing of the pill, risks and all, for women; but he thinks that, with the undoubted deadlock over the safety of most forms of female pill, a male one is inevitable.
After a very searching survey of all "conventional" and some (like C-films) very new contraceptive devices, Mr. Vaughan concludes that "the immediate future in contraceptive research looks discouraging." If there is no new breakthrough in this field, he foresees a reversion to older methods of contraception.
Meantime most of the twenty million-plus women (including very large numbers of Catholics) at present using some form of the Pill will probably continue to do so—with increasing unease as coroners and journalists highlight the cases where latent risk became a death sentence.
This book should be on the shelves of all CMAC libraries, and doctors and all of us concerned which is all of us—owe Mr. Vaughan a debt for putting so much vital information on record in so readable a form.