This is a guest article by Silvio Aladjem MD.
It would not be an overstatement to say that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC for short, is probably unique in the world. CDC works 24/7 to protect the American people from all kinds of health threats. Foreign Public Health organizations look to CDC for guidance, help, and up to date information on vaccines, treatments, epidemic control, and many other issues related to public health. Should you visit the CDC website (www.cdc.gov) you will find information on environmental issues that may threaten your health, or diseases like cancer, diabetes or others. Some you didn’t know even existed. You can find any health information or statistics your heart desires. One of the many other functions of the CDC is education and information for health professionals and for the public in general.
On February 2, 2016, CDC issued a report suggesting that women of reproductive age should refrain from ingesting any alcohol unless they are using some form of contraception.
It has been known for quite some time that children of women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may be born with a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD. A baby affected by FASD may present with multiple problems: lack of normal growth, small head, mental issues, hearing and/or vision problems, learning disabilities, birth defects and a multitude of other social problems in adulthood. There seems to be a relation between the amount of alcohol consumed and the severity of problems in the child. There is no agreement, however, as to whether there is such a thing as a “safe amount”. Thus the advice to pregnant women is not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy.
The difference between February 2, 2016 report and previous ones dealing with the use of alcohol during pregnancy, is that this is addressed to women of reproductive age not only those that are pregnant.
In case you didn’t know, while some couples make a conscientious decision to attempt a pregnancy, most don’t. Pregnancy just happens and the woman does not suspect she may be pregnant until the first missed menstrual period and by that time the damage to the baby may have already happened.
The embryo develops its organs during the very early stages of pregnancy, a period when a woman probably doesn’t even know she may be pregnant. This is a most vulnerable period when any agent, virus, drugs, alcohol and others, may impact the embryo’s development. After this period, known as organogenesis, or organ formation, damage may still be done to already formed organs.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the CDC’s warning was directed to all women in childbearing age, in an attempt to warn of a potential risk that people may not be aware of.
In subsequent days there was a negative public reaction to the CDC’s release. Daniel Victor of New York Times (February 3, 2016) reported at length on the public reaction. Some thought that the CDC is “out of step with the way many pre-pregnant people live their lives”. or that “…they’re Puritan robots from outer space….not understanding earthling’s love of distilled spirits”. Some women considered the report “insulting, severe and impractical”,
I wondered, what were these people thinking? What is insulting about telling someone what can happen under given circumstances? There is nothing insulting about the signs “No Smoking” posted in the work place, public places and just about everywhere. We are not insulted by such a display, which actually tells us what we can’t do. But you got “insulted” because CDC is giving health information that you may not be aware of? On what planet are you living?
But my surprise was even greater when on February 5th a follow up article by the same writer in New York Times reported that Dr. Schuchat, principal deputy director of CDC, in an interview, kind of apologized saying that “We weren’t as clear as we had hoped to be”. A further “clarification” said that: “We’re really all about empowering women to make good choices….” and “What they do with that information is, of course, up to them”.
This “apology” is political correctness taken to the absurd. The CDC report was informative not “insulting”. Part of what CDC is supposed to do. It’s called public education. CDC recommends vaccination, but you do what you want. Just don’t say “nobody told me”. You are free to choose the risks of dying from flu or whatever, and not take the vaccine that could have kept you alive. You are free to ignore CDC release. But if your child, unfortunately, turns to be born with FASD remember you were “insulted” when told about the risk.
To think that the CDC was “sexist” and for the CDC to issue a “clarification” for doing its job, is foolish, shortsighted and not very smart.
SILVIO ALADJEM MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist and Maternal Fetal Medicine (high risk obstetrics) specialist, is Professor Emeritus in obstetrics and gynecology at Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, in Lansing, MI. He is the author of “10,000 babies: my life in the delivery room” now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other book stores. Dr. Aladjem published extensively in Scientific Medical Journals and wrote several textbooks in the specialty. Should you wish to contact him, you may do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org