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Friday, January 23, 2004

Labels of Life and Death

Today's mail brought the usual barrage of envelopes: a preapproved credit card offer for only $264 initially and $140 a year afterwards; bills for water, power, and phone; and a couple of ads. In addition, two envelopes full of pretty return address labels arrived: one from March of Dimes, and one from St. Jude Children's Hospital. I found it interesting to note that both sets of labels were very cute and "happy" looking, and both from charities that purport to help children. But as with the credit card offer, you really have to read the fine print. Sometimes what appears to be a firm foundation turns out to be a shaky facade.

There was no question of accepting the credit card offer. I always read the terms on the inserts, and most unsolicited offers turn out to be pretty shady. But what about the labels? Sure, they were free gifts, but of course each mailing asked for a donation. It reminds me of the ladies who give out free samples at the supermarket. Once you've gotten something for free, you feel like you owe it to them to buy or contribute.

Let's take a look at each organization.

St. Jude's was founded by Danny Thomas. For those who didn't know or don't remember, Danny Thomas was a devout Catholic who founded a charitable hospital for children with cancer. Included with the labels was a chart that showed how the survival rates for childhood cancers have improved since the founding of St. Jude's in 1962. They ranged from 4-30% in 1962, and now are at 56-90%. That means that where childhood cancer used to be a likely death sentence, most victims today have high hopes of survival. Although I'm sure St. Jude's can't take all the credit for this improvement, it certainly can take a good portion of it. Not only do they treat children regardless of ability to pay, but they have engaged in extensive research to help find better cures and treatments. Of the money they receive, 4% pays for administration and 10% for fundraising. Not bad. Their goal is to cure children, and that's what they do.

Now let's take a look at the March of Dimes. Their stated goals are to "fight prematurity and birth defects." 24.2% of their monies go toward management and fundraising, and like St. Judes they enjoy a pretty good public image. The rest goes toward their stated goal.

Here's the question we should be asking, though. What exactly does "fight prematurity and birth defects" mean? Ok, we have a pretty good idea of what it means to fight prematurity -- to help pregnancies go to full term. But that goal is lumped in with the more ambiguous goal of fighting birth defects. They don't state in their mailing how they do so, and unlike fighting prematurity this one isn't so obvious.

Now, the goal of fighting birth defects seems perfectly laudable, and it can be, if it means educating women to eat right and avoid cigarettes and alcohol. Women who take these precautions during and before pregnancy are much less likely to have babies with birth defects or other developmental problems.

If that were all the March of Dimes meant by "fighting birth defects" it would indeed be a good thing. Or if they were funding the research or practice of curing children with prenatal problems. Much development has been made by others in the fields of prenatal surgery and other prenatal treatments.

But what about genetic problems? You can't cure Downs Syndrome with good nutrition or prenatal surgery.

And March of Dimes, while it emphasizes health and nutrition in its public liturature, focuses its grants and research money on genetic testing and the promotion of abortion. Although they no longer require mothers to sign a pledge to abort should tests show abnormalities, they still focus on the prevention of birth defects not by preventing the defects but by preventing the births.

It's just a nicer packaging for eugenics.

It's sad that people who claim to help babies are actually working instead toward the destruction of those labeled defective; and it's sad that we have to read between the lines and try to interpret the true meaning of the statements that the March of Dimes puts in its literature. The credit card application I received in today's mail was more upfront.

I'm thinking we all should consider making a donation to St. Jude Children's hospital... because I'd like to think we all love children, even those who suffer from health problems.