Comment Of The Day: “Who Killed ‘Judith’s’ Baby?”

Enigmatic commenter Extradimensional Cephalopod (that’s not him in the picture, just a relative) returned to Ethics Alarms after an unexplained absence (though who knows how time passes in his dimension) to provide one of several excellent observations on the post and poll about “Judith,” the expectant mother whose faith in a “freebirthing” cult cost her unborn child his life. The comments of Tim LeVier, Humble Talent, JutGory, and Mrs. Q, among others, were all Comment of the Day worthy, but for now, I’m going to award EC the prize.

Here is the current state of the poll…

…and here  is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s Comment of the Day on “Who Killed Judith’s Baby?”

First off, I’m grateful for all the nuanced and well-considered opinions here. I can always count on getting reasonably well-balanced information about human society from people’s experiences here, and the encouragement that reasonable people are not alone–just not yet organized.

The poll didn’t let me vote multiple times, but I’m tempted to select “all of the above,” in the sense that “responsible” can mean “contributing to the problem and needing to change.” For “primarily responsible,” I’m obligated to go with “Judith,” since she is presumed to have ultimate decision-making authority in this case.

That survey question by the National Partnership for Women & Families spins so hypnotically, I’d like to take it off its axle.

“Giving birth is a natural process that should not be interfered with unless absolutely medically necessary.” Who wouldn’t agree to that?

1. Yes, giving birth is objectively and literally a natural process, in that humans didn’t deliberately design it. (Although I wouldn’t put it past them to have done so under a tight budget of time and money. I’ve supported software rollouts that were just as awkward and painful.)

However, stating something to be “a natural process” in so many words implies on an emotional level that it is by default perfectly healthy and should remain purely natural, which is an appeal to nature fallacy. “Cancer is a natural process.” “Epidemics are a natural process.” “Hurricanes are a natural process.” There are plenty of natural things that I am very grateful civilization has altered or wants to alter using technology.

2. “interfered with” is a very negative way of referring to an outside party changing the outcome of an event. It implicitly assumes the outside party is unwelcome. By definition, people don’t want “interference,” but they may want help. A scene from “Firefly” comes to mind:

Zoe: “This is something the captain needs to do himself.”
Captain Mal (fighting for his life): “NO, HE DOESN’T!”
Zoe: “Oh.” (starts shooting)

3. “unless absolutely medically necessary” Oh, boy. First off, most people don’t want medical procedures that aren’t medically necessary. Medical procedures are often painful and expensive. “Don’t have a medical procedure that isn’t medically necessary,” is, for most people and most medical procedures, a trivially obvious statement.

But “absolutely” medically necessary? That sets a high bar indeed. By the time we know whether a treatment is “absolutely” medically necessary, a good portion of the time it’s already too late to do it.

On a separate note, I understand that a group trying protect people from being peer-pressured into taking the mainstream option might make rules preventing the mainstream option from being brought up. Dogma raises warning flags for me, but as I write this I realize that the solution isn’t to ban groups from having dogma (which is itself dogma) but to make sure people don’t spend all their time in dogmatic groups as they make a decision. At some point they need to work in a space where they’re allowed to weigh all the options against all the evidence and against their own priorities.

That’s why JutGory mentioned people don’t like being told what to do. Many people can recognize dogma when it’s being foisted upon them regardless if the dogma happens to align with the preponderance of the evidence (as long as they don’t already have an emotional connection to it). I find that the most effective method of getting someone to make a healthy decision is to outline the consequences–good and bad, as perceived by them–of each option. Of course, that requires me to have a decent understanding of the matter at hand, and of the person making the decision. If I don’t have those understandings already, my first step is to get them, or else any “help” I offer is nothing more than my own empirical and normative biases.

9 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Who Killed ‘Judith’s’ Baby?”

  1. Thanks to EC (a welcome voice) and everyone else for their comments.

    I kept out of it as it brought up one of the most wrenching experiences of my young life: finding my father lifting his head from his desk, tears running down his face, telling me what had happened. The times were very early 50’s, with the Cold War well on. It was the Soviets’ turn at one-upping in the medical arena: happy underwater-born babies. My dad, former GP with wide experience in overseeing or standing-by at home births was, by then, an obstetrics specialist who spent most his life (aligned with very few others) propounding prenatal education for the whole family and nursing schools that included debunking old wives’ tales, dealing with emotional changes and fears, teaching essential nutrition and particular exercises for muscles and breathing to parents(not just moms)-to-be, and meanwhile struggling with hospitals to allow prospective fathers to be a part of the process, most of all, to convince parochial-run hospitals to permit the “unholy unnatural” practitioners to forego the child-killing anesthesia if the patient knew its results and was prepared to do without.

    [sidelight] The chloroform or ether was always there if requested. Doctors already knew that not only the oxygen-deprived “blue baby” deaths or mental disabilities derived from this practice of anesthetic, but as turning up in study after study, so did the mother’s subsequent unconsciousness and separation from the process which often led to a lack of bonding (another ridiculed idea) and a frequent cause of post-partum depression. The women’s magazines’ oversimplification of “childbirth without pain ha-ha-ha”) didn’t help.

    Then here come glossy pictures of lucky Russian mommies with newborns cheerfully paddling about in their birthpools. They didn’t have to be faked. They were simply dead wrong. In the case of the births themselves, the statistics were even worse than the modern ones supplied today, but as far as “swimming babies” went not all pediatricians were aware of the mechanism at the time. Babies can’t hold their breath or move through water on purpose. It’s all reflex, and short-term. When under water, the paddling motions are the same as they would be in air, and an infant’s breathing and heart rate slows in response to being submerged, a natural, temporary, bradycardiac action. They are not “swimming!”

    The international competitiveness was intense. We still feel some of it today: witness the response to charges of Russian interference to or influence on this or that that is still swallowed fearsomely whole by the American public. So magnify that to panic proportions and you have “anything they can do, we can to better.” And so thought one of my father’s patients. She stopped coming for the classes (three times a week with at least two mandatory in early semesters for the moms and for the dads, if and when they could/would come). After the first few, absence was a rare occurrence since the women almost at once became friends and enjoyed their growing confidence and control over their bodies. The men, for the most part still shy (no matter how “tough”), soaked up the knowledge and became “coaches” for their wives, as did other female relatives in their absence. But her doctor could do nothing to persuade her — she was one of his clinic patients, by the way; the treatment and training throughout her pregnancy was free of charge, so the excuse of having to pay (unlike those fortunates under the Soviet regime) was not viable. She and her husband came from strong stock and both the latest stethoscope and X-ray results showed a fully formed, well-breathing, lively eighth-month male in her womb.

    The (ex)patient and her almost-child died about five weeks later.

    Many years later, going over his records, I came across the letter her mother wrote a few months after the tragedy. It said that her daughter’s death certificate said “birth complications” (which could have been any of a dozen problems) and that her newborn grandson had “aspirated” something shortly afterwards to which my father had penciled in “swallowd crap in H2O.” There was one of those thick black blotches over the final “O” that indicated a point broken off one of his always sharpened #3 Ticonderogas, a point of rage. And I had never heard him verbalize the word “crap.” It was this letter that he had just finished reading when I entered. It still had the pale water spots over the last part.

    I’m sorry if this sounds maudlin but since so much bad advice – these moronic lies – flourish once more on social media, I thought it might help stop one of the new “believers”.

  2. Thanks, Jack, and thanks for fixing my formatting tags! I’d been away so long I forgot they used angle brackets instead of square brackets.

    After updating my paradigms about building habits, observation mindset, and the virtue of investment, I’ll be back regularly again. It turns out spending time posting thoughtful comments on the internet gives me more wherewithal to work on my own writing projects, not less. Especially when the community has such top-notch insights!

  3. I didn’t comment on the original post, as it is a bit of a tough topic for me. This isn’t an abstract discussion, but something I’ve lived through.

    In August 2013, my wife went in for a routine check-up two days before our son was due. Everything was “ok” and we went home. 5 days latter, we go in and there is no heartbeat to be found.

    No cause was found .

    Stillbirth isn’t that common, but it’s still happening. We have excellent insurance, went to a respected practice associated with a very good hospital. We still ended up going home heartbroken without a baby.

    Had that Friday afternoon appointment triggered anything of concern, there is little doubt my son would be 6 years old and living with us. Close monitoring and medical intervention would have almost certainly saved him.

    Who is “at fault”?

    Perhaps the doctor was quick and missed something, but likely not. We could have insisted on some review by another Doctor, but to what end? To sue the Dr? We didn’t want to go down that road.

    I would argue that sometimes, no one is at fault. It happens even with the best care available.

    I start there for the background. I would also argue that forgoing medical care is idiocy. I base that on my own experience.

    Our oldest was slow to breathe. One bag ventilation on oxygen and she went from doing nothing to a vibrant baby. I don’t know for certain if “traditional” methods would have saved her, but I was sure glad for the modern intervention with a huge, instant improvement.

    After that first kid, there was no doubt in our minds that a modern hospital birth was totally the way to go.

    Fast forward to 2015, with our last kid. It is not an exaggeration to say my wife nearly died. The normal post birth experience doesn’t include a 3 day ICU stay. No doubt, without modern medicine I would be raising kids alone.

    Anecdotes aren’t data, I get that. I will also say that it is hard to ignore the impact in my life. I maintain that you’re an idiot to reject modern medicine. But to assign blame is based on a large part on moral luck.

      • Hard to know when you have an open poll or not, Jack. On a recent poll, I wanted to make a change (to neutralize my first vote, as well as to add another choice) but got a “thank you for voting (and that’s all you get, bud!)” response. I understand why you don’t put an “all of the above” selection on or not usually — we voters then tend to not weigh the choices equally or entirely — but it would help if you’d standardize the type of poll you’re using or say which. Or, if you still want to have us (okay, me) figure it out, I’ll be lazy and greedy and just go for as many as I want every time. [Full disclosure: I find most polls annoying and all polls useless; like multiple choice questions, they always leave out complete, complex or essential choices but I assume yours are to your interest, and so I participate respectfully.]

        • After one poll was skewed by someone intentionally packing the results, all polls allow a single vote per person. This time, however, because I thought “all of the above” might be popular, I allowed multiple votes (and I did say so in the post.} But I’ll specify from now on.

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