‘pregnancy isn’t a death event’ – social media’s window to the dark side

Today I was on leave and, the weather being bad, thought I’d do a bit of catching up on the news. And so it was that I found, on the Stuff FB page, an item about the (lack of) funding for cutting edge cancer drugs. So far, so innocuous (although also somewhat sad) – until I read the comments.

For there, I came across someone (who later turned out to be not alone in her views) who feels that

maternity spending is too high, time to pull the purse strings in and start putting some of that money into [funding for cancer drugs]. Ladies do not bleat on that you need it, 1950, 1960, 1970 gee less money, babies still lived.

I thought this was a bit heartless, and pointed out that neonatal mortality rates were 4 times higher in 1964 than in 2010; it’s a safe guess that increased funding for maternity & post-natal care contributed to that.


At this point you might be thinking, why did she bother? You’ve probably guessed that this is not going to end well. This is true, and for people like this individual (let’s call her Black) it’s highly unlikely that reason and evidence is going to change minds. But there are always the fence-sitters, the undecideds, and that’s who you hope to reach in discussions like this. Plus, issues such as funding for maternity care vs funding for eg cancer treatment are not as binary as Black would have them; it should not be either/or, and it should not be decided on the basis of people thinking, well, I never needed that stuff so why should it be funded for others. (And I sincerely hope we don’t ever go down the route that some politicians in the US have followed in their arguments around who pays for health care, and how much…)

Indeed, Black did continue her claims that there’s too much spent on maternity. I responded that the money spent on maternity benefits a large number of people, while cancer drugs like Keytruda (the subject of the Stuff story) are always going to be expensive and used by relatively few. At some point there has to be a cost-benefit analysis, which is reflected in what the government does & doesn’t fund; there are always going to be newer and better drugs and we probably are never going to be able to afford all of them and still provide all the other elements of a comprehensive public healthcare system.

Black is distinctly lacking in empathy: it would seem that this is partly because she is a regular smoker and would rather the money from maternity be put aside to fund her own future health needs in that space. (She does have a point about alcohol.)

However, it was the point where she claimed that ‘pregnancy is not a death event’ that I got really annoyed. Yes, Black really did say that. (Brown was agreeing that maternity funding should be cut.)

Shortly after that Black told me I was a “nut case” and blocked me.

We’ve come a long way since the 1950s in terms of the health care delivered during pregnancy and around and after birth. It’s sad to see that there are people who, because their own experiences apparently were never unpleasant or potentially dangerous, now feel that the current level of funding is too much. It’s also a pity that, if the comments on that Stuff article are anything to go by, we still don’t seem able to have a grown-up discussion around the costs of health care and the hard decisions that need to be made around funding of various aspects of that care. Talk of costs and benefits can sound cold, when faced with individual stories of human suffering, but it’s still a discussion that we need to have.

EDIT: evidence (as if any more were needed!) that pregnancy is indeed a ‘death event’:

About 26.4 per every 10,000 women in the United States die from pregnancy-related complications,

according to a study published in the Lancet. It’s no coincidence that many women struggle to access full maternity care in the US.



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