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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Raise the General Standard of Health

Raise the General Standard of Health.

"We always talk about diminishing the death-rate, whereas what is of infinitely greater importance is to increase the health-rate, to improve the general standard of health, strength, and efficiency in the whole community. It goes without saying that diminishing the death-rate implies, on the whole, an improved health-rate, but this relationship is not absolute. One could imagine, for instance, that in the near future we might arrive at medicinal means by which the human body could be rendered an unfit soil for the survival of tubercle bacilli. The result would be that all people who now tend to acquire phthisis could be kept from dying through that agency, but we should not thereby increase the average strength of the race. We should rather diminish it, because we should be keeping alive people whose tissues were not strong enough to carry on the battle of life unaided against a lower organism. In plain terms we should not be openly and squarely facing and fighting our enemies, but should be resorting to poisoning their wells. Our whole aim should be to render the individual cells of our bodies strong enough to resist and defeat any cells of lower organisms that they may be called upon to contend with. Anything that we can do in the direction of inducing human beings, as a whole, to lead more simple, natural, physiological lives, with a sufficiency of exercise in the open air and sunlight, would tend towards greatly increasing the standard of health and strength, even though the immediate effect on the death-rate might not be so striking as that brought about by bolstering up the unfit by means of poisonous agencies directed against bacteria, or hospitals for harboring the sick.

"It is possible to centre our attention too much upon disease and to forget that the positive, the natural, and the more important thing is health. We are all ready to endow hospitals, and the sentiment is excellent, but we could do more if we bent our efforts towards preventing the necessity for hospitals. An American philosopher has said tersely : 'It is better and cheaper to put up a fence at the top of a precipice than to maintain an ambulance at the bottom.'

"I cannot help continually reflecting over the fact of the great care and attention which the modern world devotes to those whom it elects to deprive of liberty by placing them in asylums and gaols. We fully recognise our responsibilities in these directions, and it is well known that in such institutions, so far as ordinary health is concerned, the conditions of life are made better than those prevailing in the general community outside. We have deprived these people of their liberty and recognise that the least we can do for them, in justice, is to see that they are properly provided for. But do we recognise such responsibility in the case of others, infinitely more important both to themselves and the race, and much more numerous, in regard to whom we take up an equally arbitrary position? Babies have no choice whatever as to whether they are to come into the world or not. We simply decree that they are to be born, and up to a certain age they are absolutely dependent on us, more dependent than prisoners in gaol. The position would be very different if children had fore-knowledge and could be allowed, as Zangwill fancifully suggests, to exercise the privilege of selecting their parents. Then as he says : 'When children begin to be fastidious about the families they are born into, parents will have to improve or die childless. . . . In their anxiety to be worthy of selection by posterity parents will rise to heights of health and holiness, of which our sick generation does not dream. If they do not, woe to them ! They will be remorselessly left to die without issue.' Meantime, children have to accept the parents to whom it is their fortune or misfortune—their fate—to be allotted. There is nothing in our scheme of public instruction or laws to appreciably aid in promoting the physical page 74 well-being or to protect the lives of children. Everything is left to chance and ignorance. The community is at no pains to see that the lives of girls at school or elsewhere are such as will best fit them for parenthood. On the contrary, our school system tends in a reverse direction, for virtually no instruction is given in the direction of properly fitting them for household or domestic duties; and school over-pressure, with neglect of fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and healthy recreation during girlhood, renders a large number of women unfit for healthy maternity. Thus children come to be born into the world as weaklings, and their mothers are fundamentally unfitted to properly nurture them or are unwilling to take the trouble to render themselves fit to do so or to properly feed them by artificial means. Taking women generally they have no realisation of the importance of closely adhering to the laws and intentions of nature in feeding, exercise, and other matters bearing on the growth of children, and the result is not only the appalling death-rate which so strikingly appeals to our imagination, but the infinitely more important and significant lowering of the standard of health strength, and efficiency throughout the whole community, which cannot be made evident by statistics, and therefore escapes general recognition.