Home > climate change, sex, statistics, Swine flu > Get a grip on the fertility figures

Get a grip on the fertility figures

Been to the doctor’s recently? Despite whatever illness or ailment you saw them for, you can be sure they will also have checked off one or more of the following boxes: Smoking, drinking, diet, exercise and probably swine flu. You can now add to that: don’t have more than two kids and save the planet!

No, you haven’t stepped back into India circa Indira Gandhi or even China today. The advice comes in the once august but now sadly looney-tunes British Medical Journal from John Guillebaud (emeritus professor of family planning at UCL) and Pip Hayes (a doctor). Doctors, they say, should advise patients against having a third child because it is the environmental equivalent of a patio heater or a gas-guzzling vehicle.

They say: “The Optimum Population Trust calculates that ‘each new UK birth will be responsible for 160 times more greenhouse gas emissions . . . than a new birth in Ethiopia.’ Should UK doctors break a deafening silence here? ‘Population’ and ‘family planning’ seem taboo words … isn’t contraception the medical profession’s prime contribution for all countries?”

There’s more: “Unplanned pregnancy, especially in teenagers, is a problem for the planet, as well as the individual concerned. But what about planned pregnancies? Should we now explain to UK couples who plan a family that stopping at two children, or at least having one less child than first intended, is the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren? We must not put pressure on people, but by providing information on the population and the environment, and appropriate contraception for everyone (and by their own example), doctors should help to bring family size into the arena of environmental ethics, analogous to avoiding patio heaters and high carbon cars.”

You can have one more and that's yer lot!

You can have one more and that's yer lot!

Wow! The Optimum Population Trust seems to have done its homework here. But hang on a moment: who are the Optimum Population Trust? Step forward Prof Guillebaud and Dr Hayes, who are two of its leading lights (and are therefore quoting themselves third-person in the above extracts). The trust has set out its stall previously: “In the UK, that population should be allowed to stabilise and decrease by not less than 0.25% a year to an environmentally sustainable level, by bringing immigration into numerical balance with emigration, by making greater efforts to reduce teenage pregnancies, and by encouraging couples voluntarily to ‘Stop at Two’ children.”

So doctors should promote contraception not just for health reasons, or to prevent any social or economic reasons they may perceive, or simply because the patient wants it – all of which doctors have taken as their God-given remit to do in the past – but now also because it’s their duty to prevent the pending ecopalypse.

Actually, the Optimum Population Trust, which includes David Attenborough among its patrons, hasn’t done its research all that well. If it had, it would know that the average fertility rate of women who gave birth in England and Wales in 2008 was 1.95 children, according to Office of National Statistics figures released in May. That’s up from 1.92 kids per mum in 2007, but nowhere near the peak of 2.93 kids per mum of 1962.

And if it wants the docs to berate patients with the no-more-than-two message, the trust may care to take a closer look at the statistics and find out exactly who should be berated. Of the 690,013 live births in England and Wales in 2007 (the latest break down figures the ONS gives), the proportion of born-in-the-UK mothers with two children already was 6.9%. For mums with three sprogs already it was 2.2%. The percentage of mums born in Pakistan overstepping the Optimum Population Trust’s mark  was 19.3% with two ankle-biters already and 11.2% with three. The figures for Bangladeshi mums were similar: 21.3% and 11.8%.*

Steyn cell research

Now I’m not going to start on any Mark Steyn “Islamisation of Europe via the delivery suite” riff here: that’s for another time and place and besides, I’ve got enough to worry about without having Shami Chakrabarti on my back. But you can guarantee that if your friendly local, environmentally concerned GP did decide to target the Optimum Population Trust’s message to where it’s really needed, Chakrabarty, Trevor Phillips and Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari would be elbowing each other out of the way to be first to huff and puff the surgery doors down.

So I guess that means everyone’s going to get the message, which is all pretty much par for the course health issues have taken ever since the Atlee government nationalised everyone’s health in 1948 by creating the NHS. While we in Britain get defensive if anyone abroad attacks the dear old NHS (while forever grumbling about its manifest deficiencies at home), what few seem to have taken on board is the quid pro quo it has involved. Basically, the Government owns and is responsible for your health. And by extrapolation, in the way any and everything gets extrapolated when the Government gets its expansionist mitts on it, not only do medics and politicians think merely treating sickness enough: they have to prevent that sickness as well. You smoke? Go stand outside! You like a drink? You can’t have that operation till you’re down to the measly recommended units per day! You’re fat? Not only do you not get that operation, but while we’re at it, how about banning Tony the Tiger from the Frosties ad?

And since the warm-mongers have decreed that global warming will seriously affect the world’s health (though in their typically weaselly way, they don’t say how, or whether it will be a good or bad effect), the meddlesome medics feel they have to present their angle on preventing the coming ecopalypse. Which they do with the full encouragement of the Government because, let’s face it, almost everything you do affects the environment somehow, and that gives the politicos and quangocrats a bigger carte blanche to regulate your life even more.

Some months ago, I posted a comment on Ben Goldacre’s usually sane Bad Science blog regarding some typically numbskull comments from medical doctors about “man-made” global warming which he had quoted approvingly. I merely asked – politely – what qualifications medical doctors had to diagnose either the cause or even existence of global warming, them not having degrees on climatology, paleoclimatology, nor nuffink that was, like, relevant. From the squawks of eco-outrage and “heretic!” that followed, you’d have thought I’d called into question the very existence of Bad Science’s supreme god, the Venerable Richard à Dawkins.

But my point remains, now as then. Haven’t medical doctors got a core business to be getting on with, rather than haranguing patients on a subject about which they are as qualified to harangue as your average pub bore, politician or, for that matter, BBC environmental reporter? After all, we’ve got the second wave of swineageddon just round the corner!

* I should note that these figures are the percentage of mums giving birth within marriage. The ONS does not give break down number of previous kids by country of birth of mother figures for children born outside marriage. For those interested and who feel they need to get up on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square and shout about it if I didn’t tell you, the stats are these: UK-born mothers of kids born outside marriage in 2007 50.6%, Pakistani 2.3%, Bengali 2.2%. Aren’t statistics racist?


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