Bearded Pigs in Phoenix
Gawande at MLA in Phoenix

Happy Mother's Day

In "Lookin' For A Leader" from his new album Living With War, Neil Young sings: "America is beautiful / but she has an ugly side."  Nowhere is this more starkly demonstrated than in our disgustingly high infant mortality rates.

Save The Children has just released a report on the State of the World's Mothers 2006 which includes these facts:

  • Infant mortality in the US is 2.5 times higher than Finland, Iceland and Norway, and about 3 times higher than Japan
  • Among industrialized countries, the US is tied for 2nd to last place with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia
  • Within the US, the infant death rate is highest in Washington DC
  • The rate is 3.4 times higher for blacks and 1.5 times higher for Hispanics than for whites

The depressing thing about this is that it isn't new.  It's not as if something has suddenly gone wrong and with the release of these figures there'll be a sudden national outcry and the energy and will to fix this.  We've always been at the bottom of the heap.  It's just never been a priority.

Infant mortality is a matter of poverty and education.  It's not complicated.  Obviously, the US has the resources to fix this problem.  But in Congress yesterday they're arguing (although not very hard -- the Republicans held a victory rally on the steps of the capitol before the vote was actually cast) about extending the tax cuts on capital gains, as if that's the most critical economic problem we're currently facing.  I don't know if Kanye is right that my president doesn't care about black people, but it's quite obvious that as a nation we don't really care about poor babies needlessly dying.

When Katrina hit, America was shocked to find out that New Orleans was populated by poor black people who didn't have the resources to evacuate.  It'd be a wake-up call, some said.  After seeing those pictures, we wouldn't be able to turn away from that reality.  We'd be forced to mobilize the national will to deal with the horrifying poverty that we had suddenly become aware of.  Of course, that didn't happen.  The news reports quickly devolved into the usual partisan finger pointing and posturing and after a few weeks we got bored and moved on.  Pretty pathetic.

Truly, it baffles me.   I'd like to think that it's a matter of ignorance, that most people in the United States simply assume that because we are the richest and most powerful country the world has ever seen, our children must be the world's healthiest, and as this latest report gets it's brief mention on page A26 of a few newspapers, it'll seize the national imagination and action will be demanded.

Not a chance.



Good thoughtful post, Scott.

The schizophrenia of this country baffles me. An anti-abortion president, a high infant mortality rate, disregard for the poor and disenfranchised (New Orleans just brought that to the forefront for a little while); all seem to point to a country that appears somewhat morally bankrupt or maybe morally ambigious. Why opponents of abortion don't address this most important of issues--what to do after the child is born--seems rather short-sighted, at best.

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