Abortion Dilemma

Concerning your article on "The Politics of Abortion" {Cover Story, Sept. 8}, whether or not an abortion is performed is not the issue here. We always have had and always will have women who choose (and men who demand) termination of an unwanted pregnancy.

What is at stake is whether or not the solution to their quest will be safe.

Outlaw legalized abortion, and you drive the people who seek this service and the people who provide it underground -- untrained, unethical or disbarred practitioners, stealth (no redress for malpractice), hefty fees up front and a whole bag of physical risks stemming from hasty and unsanitary conditions and poor follow-up -- infection, gynecological complications, infertility and even death.Mary B. Licari Fort Washington, Md.

VDT Hazards

Dr. Jay Siwek's comments on the possible link between VDT radiation and pregnancy risks {Consultation, Sept. 1} may be misleading.

Concerns over miscarriages and birth defects among VDT users have steadily mounted over the last few years, but little data were available to reassure VDT workers. Last year, results were released by a team at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, linking VDT-like radiation with serious malformations in the offspring of exposed mice. This summer, a second study by researchers in Uppsala, Sweden, also indicated a fetotoxic effect.

The Swedish experiments are the obvious response to questions about a reproductive risk. Nevertheless, not a single laboratory in the United States is presently attempting to repeat the Karolinska and Uppsala studies.

In the past, many experts have been quick to dismiss radiation fears in the absence of information, but for them to ignore such important findings is totally unacceptable. It is time to treat this risk seriously.Louis Slesin Editor, VDT News New York, N.Y.

Living Longer

The search for a longer and healthier life is criticized by Daniel Callahan {Second Opinion, Sept. 8}, who instructs us to settle for a "natural and fitting life span -- which can be achieved by the late seventies or early eighties." One wonders what Mr. Callahan would have deemed "natural and fitting" if he had been writing in 1900, when U.S. life expectancy was 49 or in the 1780s, when it was 35.

As recently as 15 years ago, it was considered a normal consequence of aging to be senile. Now, we know that Alzheimer's disease and related dementias are distinct pathologies of genetic and environmental origin. Medical researchers unwilling to see these catastrophes as "natural" are now pursuing promising therapeutic and preventive strategies.

There have always been some who believe that disease and debility are our fate, even God's will. Callahan deplores the pursuit of longevity and what he calls "an insatiable desire for improvements in health." Yet the predominant view of scientists who study human aging is that our true natural limit is somewhere beyond 100 and that, with research breakthroughs, the added years may well be ones of reasonably good mental and physical health, vitality and personal satisfaction.

It would seem an obvious priority of national science policy to pursue such research in this country, where the number of very old will quadruple by 2030. Yet the budget for the National Institute on Aging is nearly the smallest of the 12 institutes of health. National leadership should champion a scientific drive that could achieve unprecedented health and vitality for the elderly, a group we will all join if we are fortunate.

Certainly the goal of modern aging research is not "simply more life without discernible end," as he suggests. But in fact the elderly are the fastest-growing portion of our population. To fail to invest in research that could improve their lives would deprive society of the full benefit of their longevity. It would be a devastating mistake. Daniel Perry Executive Director, Alliance for Aging Research Washington

More on Chiropractors

On what does Dr. Willibald Nagler {Health Forum, Sept. 8} base the statement that "even a physical therapist has more education than a chiropractor"? Individuals currently graduating in chiropractic take a minimum of class hours exceeding those required by medical schools in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, neurology and orthopedics. The total class hours, including those in specialized subjects such as kinesiology and manipulation, equal or exceed those required in medical school.

I would like to know if Dr. Nagler has ever spoken with anyone who has achieved better results with chiropractic care than with standard medical methods, or if he has been willing to listen. Since the only real gauge of a treatment is the degree of functioning restored, a poll of chiropractic clients might surprise him.

I would not go to my chiropractor with an infectious disease or a skin condition or a bleeding wound. I would not be without him if I had an athletic injury, whiplash or chronic tension headache. I would definitely want him if I had been immobilized by illness or injury for any period of time. It seems a great shame that doctors cannot investigate the experience and wishes of the health consumer. Karen E. Murray Arlington

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