SOME of Cardinal Heenan's remarks on the "universal confusion over birth control," reported in your issue of May 17, are misleading and unnecessarily alarming. May I attempt to put matters in perspective by making the following points?
1 — Spontaneous genetic -Lchanges (mutations) occur all the time, at finite frequencies. They are necessary for the potential variability without which species tend to die out. The causes of spontaneous mutations are complex and not fully understood.
2 -Ionising radiations and some chemicals are known to increase mutation rates. The genetic system of Man is basically no different from that of other organisms. Experimental evidence from mice indicates that at the present level of background radiation, about 20 per cent of the observed effects are due to radiation and 80 per cent to chemical agents, in a population exposed to a wide range of chemicals.
2 — Even if background rad iation was increased by atom bomb tests to 100 times its present level (which seems very unlikely) the resultant increase in mutation rates would be less than 10 per cent. of the present rate. In Britain this would mean that at least 50 more children with some form of defect would be born per year. In human terms this must
be deplored both for the suffering of these children and the consequent distress to others.
4This estimated increase in abnormalities is deliberately based on the worst possible genetic premise. Our increasing knowledge of the genetic system of Man suggests very strongly that the increase would, in the event, be very much less than 10 per cent.
C — Compared with the pre') sent probability of a child being born with some mental, physical or metabolic defect (about 1 in 35 is a generally agreed estimate) it would not significantly affect population structure or size.
6 _ At present the greatest hazard to the "man-in-thestreet" from ionising radiation is from medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. These processes are therefore being reduced to a necessary minimum, and great precautions taken to avoid irradiation to the gonads (testis or ovary).
7— The statistical correlation between lung cancer and cigarette smoking Is very high indeed and of a different order of magnitude from the correlation between thrombosis and taking "the pill." The increased risk of thrombosis to women is about equal from pregnancy and from taking oral contraceptives.
Q — The "thalidomide Mgt, edy" was a special case, and of course, legal action is being
taken in Germany against members of the pharmaceutical firm concerned. The side effects of the pill, on the other hand, have been widely and openly reported in your issue of May with an awareness that may be all the greater because of the thalidomide disaster.
0 — The Dunlop Committee / in this country, which is responsible for drug safety, has accepted the pill as safe, as has, I believe, the World Health Organisation.
10 -It is true, of course,
that possible long-term effects can be judged only by long-term results! But at present there seems to be no cause for alarm.
One wonders just where the "irresponsibility" lies. Surely not with those bishops who follow the policy of the Archdiocese of Munich, quoted in your same issue: "At the same time, in making such a decision (to use contraceptives) they must not consider themselves excluded from Communion at the Eucharistic table. They must humbly realise that they are walking the path to a mature conjugal love, in total harmony with the will of God . . " B. J. Rickard Guy's Hospital Medical School, London, S.E.1.
THE Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa are helping some of our members —people afflicted with multiple sclerosis — by placing their lovely home at Mary's Mead, Godden Green, near Sevenoaks, at our disposal as a shortstay holiday centre.
They would like to help far more of our members but until a lift has been installed they are unable to take wheelchair cases. It is these cases for whom it is so difficult to find holiday accommodation. Their need is great—so too is that of their relatives who nurse them day and night through a lifetime. They too can take a holiday at Mary's Mead.
There are so many calls on people's kindness today that we are hesitant to appeal for help. We need about £2,000 to instal a lift. And yet, unless we do, so many of our deserving members will be deprived of a holiday.
The Franciscan Missionary Sisters would like to do more for our people. Would any of your readers help them by sending a donation towards the cost of the lift? All donations will be gratefully acknowledged.
A. C. Waine General Secretary, Multiple Sclerosis Society. 10 Stratford Road, London, W.B.
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