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Editorial, 1922

In medical journals recently, there have appeared reports of conferences in which prominent doctors have advocated birth-control and the use of contraceptives, and these reports have shown that the medical profession is divided upon this subject. The question has been discussed in all ages from the time of Plato and Aristotle, but the first essay in systematic form was published by Malthus in 1798. On reading Malthus, Darwin was strengthened in the belief that natural selection is the inevitable result of the rapid increase of animal life, and that this increase leads to the struggle for existence. What is true as regards the lower animals does not apply equally in regard to mankind. The theories of Malthus were generally correct, but his conclusions did not present by any means the whole truth, and the progress of colonization, of sanitation and health measures, the international exchange of food supplies, and other factors in the progress of the last century have falsified part of the verdict at which Malthus arrived. He contended that there is a natural tendency in population to increase faster than the means of subsistence. This contention appears to be futile when it is considered that in 1798 the population of Europe was much less than in the year 1898, and at this latter period the people generally had never been so well fed. The French peasantry were almost starving at the close of the eighteenth century. The Napoleonic wars levied their toll on population, and while the people steadily increased during the last hundred years such factors as epidemics and poverty, on which Malthus relied for the suppression of population, markedly diminished. What with the progress of the means of transport, the possibilities of intensive cultivation, and the progress of science generally, it would be a bold man who would say that this old brown Earth could not carry on its surface, at some future period, a population twenty times greater than to-day.

But we are less concerned with Malthus than with Malthusianism, except to observe that Malthus gave no sanction whatever to the theories and practices now currently known as Malthusianism. He approved only of the principles of moral self-restraint—“Do not marry until you have a fair prospect of supporting a family,” he said. This is a wise injunction, but it is carried too far when the cost of living is inflated by far too high a standard of living. On this point the present generation in New Zealand compares unfavourably with the early settlers. We have no words sufficient to express our contempt for people who are healthy and living in fairly good economic conditions who get married with the intention of having no children. The limitation of families among the poor has something to commend it, but it is hardly ever practised, and in other classes of society, where there is no justification on medical grounds, it results from selfishness in its most revolting form on the part usually of the mother. When this practice is common it is a sign of national decay. Unfortunately it is common in New Zealand, where there is probably less excuse than in any other part of the habitable globe. That this artificial check to population should receive the sanction of any section of the medical profession seems almost incredible. When many of the best and bravest of our young men have perished in the Great War and when the urgent need of this country and the Empire is population, it is not only surprising that Malthusianism should be advocated by medical men or even by laymen, but it is monstrous… We have read the arguments advanced by the advocates of the general and extended use of contraceptives, and they do violence to everything that is sacred to the name of nature, morality, science and common-sense. We may charitably suppose that these false prophets are working in a murky and vitiated atmosphere in which they mistake change for progress.

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Method

Results

Conclusion

Author Information

Acknowledgements

Correspondence

Correspondence Email

Competing Interests

NZMJ 1922

For the PDF of this article,
contact nzmj@nzma.org.nz

View Article PDF

Editorial, 1922

In medical journals recently, there have appeared reports of conferences in which prominent doctors have advocated birth-control and the use of contraceptives, and these reports have shown that the medical profession is divided upon this subject. The question has been discussed in all ages from the time of Plato and Aristotle, but the first essay in systematic form was published by Malthus in 1798. On reading Malthus, Darwin was strengthened in the belief that natural selection is the inevitable result of the rapid increase of animal life, and that this increase leads to the struggle for existence. What is true as regards the lower animals does not apply equally in regard to mankind. The theories of Malthus were generally correct, but his conclusions did not present by any means the whole truth, and the progress of colonization, of sanitation and health measures, the international exchange of food supplies, and other factors in the progress of the last century have falsified part of the verdict at which Malthus arrived. He contended that there is a natural tendency in population to increase faster than the means of subsistence. This contention appears to be futile when it is considered that in 1798 the population of Europe was much less than in the year 1898, and at this latter period the people generally had never been so well fed. The French peasantry were almost starving at the close of the eighteenth century. The Napoleonic wars levied their toll on population, and while the people steadily increased during the last hundred years such factors as epidemics and poverty, on which Malthus relied for the suppression of population, markedly diminished. What with the progress of the means of transport, the possibilities of intensive cultivation, and the progress of science generally, it would be a bold man who would say that this old brown Earth could not carry on its surface, at some future period, a population twenty times greater than to-day.

But we are less concerned with Malthus than with Malthusianism, except to observe that Malthus gave no sanction whatever to the theories and practices now currently known as Malthusianism. He approved only of the principles of moral self-restraint—“Do not marry until you have a fair prospect of supporting a family,” he said. This is a wise injunction, but it is carried too far when the cost of living is inflated by far too high a standard of living. On this point the present generation in New Zealand compares unfavourably with the early settlers. We have no words sufficient to express our contempt for people who are healthy and living in fairly good economic conditions who get married with the intention of having no children. The limitation of families among the poor has something to commend it, but it is hardly ever practised, and in other classes of society, where there is no justification on medical grounds, it results from selfishness in its most revolting form on the part usually of the mother. When this practice is common it is a sign of national decay. Unfortunately it is common in New Zealand, where there is probably less excuse than in any other part of the habitable globe. That this artificial check to population should receive the sanction of any section of the medical profession seems almost incredible. When many of the best and bravest of our young men have perished in the Great War and when the urgent need of this country and the Empire is population, it is not only surprising that Malthusianism should be advocated by medical men or even by laymen, but it is monstrous… We have read the arguments advanced by the advocates of the general and extended use of contraceptives, and they do violence to everything that is sacred to the name of nature, morality, science and common-sense. We may charitably suppose that these false prophets are working in a murky and vitiated atmosphere in which they mistake change for progress.

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Method

Results

Conclusion

Author Information

Acknowledgements

Correspondence

Correspondence Email

Competing Interests

NZMJ 1922

For the PDF of this article,
contact nzmj@nzma.org.nz

View Article PDF

Editorial, 1922

In medical journals recently, there have appeared reports of conferences in which prominent doctors have advocated birth-control and the use of contraceptives, and these reports have shown that the medical profession is divided upon this subject. The question has been discussed in all ages from the time of Plato and Aristotle, but the first essay in systematic form was published by Malthus in 1798. On reading Malthus, Darwin was strengthened in the belief that natural selection is the inevitable result of the rapid increase of animal life, and that this increase leads to the struggle for existence. What is true as regards the lower animals does not apply equally in regard to mankind. The theories of Malthus were generally correct, but his conclusions did not present by any means the whole truth, and the progress of colonization, of sanitation and health measures, the international exchange of food supplies, and other factors in the progress of the last century have falsified part of the verdict at which Malthus arrived. He contended that there is a natural tendency in population to increase faster than the means of subsistence. This contention appears to be futile when it is considered that in 1798 the population of Europe was much less than in the year 1898, and at this latter period the people generally had never been so well fed. The French peasantry were almost starving at the close of the eighteenth century. The Napoleonic wars levied their toll on population, and while the people steadily increased during the last hundred years such factors as epidemics and poverty, on which Malthus relied for the suppression of population, markedly diminished. What with the progress of the means of transport, the possibilities of intensive cultivation, and the progress of science generally, it would be a bold man who would say that this old brown Earth could not carry on its surface, at some future period, a population twenty times greater than to-day.

But we are less concerned with Malthus than with Malthusianism, except to observe that Malthus gave no sanction whatever to the theories and practices now currently known as Malthusianism. He approved only of the principles of moral self-restraint—“Do not marry until you have a fair prospect of supporting a family,” he said. This is a wise injunction, but it is carried too far when the cost of living is inflated by far too high a standard of living. On this point the present generation in New Zealand compares unfavourably with the early settlers. We have no words sufficient to express our contempt for people who are healthy and living in fairly good economic conditions who get married with the intention of having no children. The limitation of families among the poor has something to commend it, but it is hardly ever practised, and in other classes of society, where there is no justification on medical grounds, it results from selfishness in its most revolting form on the part usually of the mother. When this practice is common it is a sign of national decay. Unfortunately it is common in New Zealand, where there is probably less excuse than in any other part of the habitable globe. That this artificial check to population should receive the sanction of any section of the medical profession seems almost incredible. When many of the best and bravest of our young men have perished in the Great War and when the urgent need of this country and the Empire is population, it is not only surprising that Malthusianism should be advocated by medical men or even by laymen, but it is monstrous… We have read the arguments advanced by the advocates of the general and extended use of contraceptives, and they do violence to everything that is sacred to the name of nature, morality, science and common-sense. We may charitably suppose that these false prophets are working in a murky and vitiated atmosphere in which they mistake change for progress.

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Method

Results

Conclusion

Author Information

Acknowledgements

Correspondence

Correspondence Email

Competing Interests

NZMJ 1922

Contact diana@nzma.org.nz
for the PDF of this article

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