Tomorrow's Children Highlights
Evidence Highlights Index, 1870 - 1930

The Black Stork: Newspaper Controversy

The following are excerpts from newspaper interviews and editorials from 1915-6 that comment on Dr. Haiselden's controversial position on the treatment of newborns with disabilities. They are reprinted here courtesy of Martin Pernick.

From "Dr. Baruch Praises Doctor who let Doomed Baby Die" from the New York Sun, November 21, 1915:

Reporter: It has been stated that Dr. Haiselden could have saved the baby's life if he had performed some operation. Would you mind stating the character of the operation?

Baruch: I am glad that you asked this question, since this very important point has been lost sight of in the hysterical discussions. It really has greater bearing upon this question than appears on the surface . . . You may note what many sentimental folk disregard, how much depends upon the individual doctor's judgment of emergency.

The causes, progress and termination of congenital defects are not fit subjects for the lay reader, many of whom are already too much interested in medical subjects, the knowledge of which can be of no earthly service to them. Indeed, the type of deformity involved in the Chicago case is usually so revolting that the description in the news columns in the Chicago case has added to the hysteria of the public.

I may say, however, that in this instance, Dr. Haiselden had to deal with what is called a monstrosity, not only a defective or malformed baby.

What difference is there, the doctor was asked, between these defects as they influence the action of a physician?

Baruch: A monstrosity, or obvious defective, always demands more serious consideration. No physician would presume the responsibility of destroying the life of such a child although he may realize that it will never be anything but the semblance of a human being. It is doubtful if the Spartan law will ever become operative in the present state of so-called civilization. What suffering the saving of a defective baby even may involve is graphically described in one of the city papers today with the headlines, Love for Defective Child Has Ruined This Family--Father Made a Bankrupt and Mother a Physical Wreck Caring for a Boy Born Unsound Mentally and After All Their Sacrifices He is Now in An Institution.

While monstrosities are exceedingly rare and deformities not infrequent, what is called the stillborn baby comes under observation of every physician in even moderate obstetric practice.

In my personal experience, I have observed but one monstrosity. The mother was under the care of a specialist in obstetrics, and I was present as the family physician. When it was discovered that the baby was a monstrosity of a worse type than the Chicago child, it was left alone and died. If Dr. Haiselden was correct in his diagnosis of the Bollinger baby, then I am quite in sympathy with the stand he took.

John Kingsbury, Commissioner of the Department of Public Charities, from the Independent, November 11, 1915:

In my work in connection with this particular department of the city's administration, I have had to know of many cases similar in a way to that of the infant that has provoked all of this recent discussion. I have felt strongly that little ones of this sort were better out of the world than in it, but I am free to say I have nothing to offer in the way of a public solution to the problem. Each case has its individual factors. And no one law would suffice for a rule of conduct. I do feel, however, that no conscientious physician should be saddled alone with the responsibility of deciding whether a woefully abnormal child should be helped to live or be left to die agreeable to nature's manifest intent. No, I do not believe that a board or commission of any sort would be the answer to this social puzzle, for after all, the question is fundamentally a social one, and it is not for a committee of physicians or lawyers to dispose of it. It more intimately concerns the home first and the general public next, and the parents must inevitably be the real arbiters.

John Kingsbury, from "Dr. Baruch Praises Doctor Who Let Doomed Baby Die," New York Sun, November 21, 1915:

I believe that the only really sane and satisfactory procedure would be for the parents and the attending physician to decide the fate of the little one--always assuming that nature is intent upon making the infant's days brief and that the society of medicine or surgery alone could change this. ...If the choice is to let nature prevail, then I am reasonably satisfied that the best interests of all concerned would thus be served.

Just as justice should be tempered by mercy so should the science of the healing art be willing to forego a mere physical triumph and consider the possible aftermath of blighted human existence--indeed more animal than human. It is only when we have an aggregation of these unfortunate creatures that we realize perhaps what Dr. Haiselden had in mind when he courageously refrained from using the knife that might possibly have made the Bollinger baby's days longer.

How many dwellers in this city have ever journeyed to Randall's Island? Relatively few, and really the sight is not a cheerful one. We have there 2,000 feeble minded and some of these are distressing cases, indeed this hardly expresses it. In one whole ward, the poor creatures are quite incapable of helping themselves. They have to be dressed and fed like helpless infants. There are others that are deformed and utterly devoid of any human instincts.

....On the other hand, it does seem that the wise and reputable physician cooperating with the parents, should be the best advisor, and that the ultimate decision, after he has presented the case with full professional knowledge, should rest with the parents, the desire of the mother prevailing. This broad question should not be evaded. Public discussion should be encouraged and after all the seemingly untimely end of that poor child in Chicago may be the means of a doing a world of good. This is eugenics in the concrete.

From "Was the Doctor Right?" The Independent, January 3, 1916:

The letters commending the doctor's course in letting the crippled baby die are four times as many as those that condemn him... Every letter except one bearing a minister's name answers our question.

"Was the doctor right?" Yes, I emphatically approve of the attitude of the mother and the physician. Of the many questions involved the important one is the eugenic question. In fact the chief significance of the event lies in the recognition that the vitality of the human race must be duly considered. I hope the time will come when it will be commonplace that the interests of the race are paramount. Irving Fisher, New Haven Connecticut, Chair, Department of Political Economy, Yale.

In my judgment it was not only biologically wise, but normally right from the highest ethical standards, to make no effort to preserve the life of the Chicago baby....This infant could never develop into anything even approaching a normal human being....This and like cases, however, should be regarded each on its own individual merits and not be made the basis of far reaching generalizations. Raymond Pearl, Orono, Maine, Biologist in charge of the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station.

The little child should mercifully be allowed to die. The child with a good brain, however crippled otherwise, should be saved. Franklin Giddings, Department of Sociology, Columbia University.

In successful social species the functions of the individual must be subordinated to the best interest of the race. If surgical interference in a case will be to the detriment of society, such interference would be antisocial. If the progress of surgery is to be used to the detriment of the race... it may conceivably destroy the race. Charles B. Davenport,Director of the Carnegie Station for Experimental Evolution and of the Eugenics Records Office.

Handicapped from birth to death, what but pain, shame, humiliation and distress awaits them. Edward Berwick.

A natural death is its natural right. Edward Clapham, Fulton, New York.

As a Christian and a Socialist, I believe and hope the day of the parasite who eats his bread without earning it will soon pass whether he be mentally or physically incompetent or not. J.C. Howell, M.D., Orlando, Florida.

If we love our friends or relatives, why should we wish them to suffer needlessly? ...If this case had come up a hundred years ago, as it undoubtedly did...death would have followed birth because there was no way of preventing such an outcome.

Science has divinely given rights, but these rights are only for good and merciful ends, and cannot rightly be exercised to prolong human misery needlessly, or to cause unnecessary suffering. Benjamin Walker Saunders, Pastor Congregational Church Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

The most conscientious may at times decide from high ethical reasoning that extraordinary measures are not justified in prolonging life in a being who is destined to misery and suffering and who may be a positive menace to society. Lillian Wald, Henry St. Settlement.

I think all monstrosities should be permitted to die, but I do condemn the physician for making such a public ado about the matter. He has done nothing more than many physicians have done but done more wisely, and this publicity will prompt others less wise to go farther in this matter than they should. Frank Roberts, President of New Mexico Normal University.

Between extinction and sterilization the difference seems rather of degree than of kind. Those who advocate sterilization must surely approve of the course taken in this extreme case. I believe however that a matter of such vital importance should not be left to the decision of one man, but that some form of collective or legalized action should be required. Alexander Johnson, Field Secretary on Provision for the Feeble Minded.

She had chosen this doctor and HE FAILED HER! Had she been allowed to keep her child, to nurse it, to care for it, and lavish the love of her heart upon it, her life would have been broadened, bettered, purified, for with such suffering comes the purification of character. Willie May Reddin, Jamesville, Wisconsin.

I believe that the Constitution of the United States was right in guaranteeing that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Paul Kayser, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

We cannot help congratulating ourselves and the world at large that in the past so utilitarian a standpoint as regards defective lives was not taken. For we would then never have had the songs of Fanny Crosby or read of the wonderful transformation in the life of Helen Keller--P. Smith, Detroit, Michigan.

So far at least as I know we have no courses in our medical colleges as yet which teach how to judge when a patient's life may be of no service to the community...physicians may thank God that we are not yet the licensed executioners of the unfit for the community, and some of us know how fallacious our judgements are even with regard to the few things we know. Dr. Walsh, Catholic physician

From "Noted Men and Women Differ on Ethics of Letting Baby Die." From the Washington Post, November 18, 1915:

This child as well as every other child should be kept alive as long as possible. It is not for me to decide whether a child should be put to death. If it is a defective it should be treated as such, and be taught all it can learn. The law states that only a judge has the power to decide who shall die, and then only in case of crime. Jane Addams.

As a eugenicist and a philanthropist, I would let the child die, perhaps as a parent I would let it live. I doubt though, if it is possible to tell whether a baby is mentally defective when it is only 5 days old. Dr. Harvey Wiley, M.D.

If the child would be a helpless idiot, what purpose is served by keeping it alive? Katherine Davis.

A doctor has one enemy, Death, and should fight him to the last ditch. Royal Copeland, M.D.

This case should give an impulse to the national movement for birth control and prevention of defectives. Benjamin Lindsey, Judge.

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Marty Pernick discusses The Black Stork

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Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1915


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Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1915