Carl Djerassi

Feb 1 – Correction: Dr Djerassi has sent a commentary to the Guardian denying that he blamed the contraceptive pill for Austria's demographic collapse:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/27/medical-research-health-response

One of the inventors of the contraceptive pill spoiled the holiday season for some diehard birth-controllers by publicly ruminating on the harm the Pill has done to Europe — if not the rest of the world. The 85-year-old Carl Djerassi wrote a commentary in the Austrian paper, Der Standard, outlining the “horror scenario” of plunging birth rates the pill had helped to create.

Djerassi, a chemist, novelist and playwright, said that in most of Europe there was now “no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction” he said, “This divide in Catholic Austria, a country which has on average 1.4 children per family, is now complete.” He described couples who regularly contracept as “wanting to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it”.

The fall in the birth rate, he said, was an “epidemic” far worse — but given less attention — than obesity. Young Austrians were committing national suicide if they failed to procreate. To support an ageing population they would have to accept an “intelligent immigration policy”. Austria already has more people over 65 than children under 15.
Djerassi was one of three chemists whose formulation of the synthetic progestogen Norethisterone marked a key step towards the earliest contraceptive pill. His comments went widely unreported in the media but were picked up by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and published with further commentary by Jose Maria Simon, the president of the World Federation of Catholic Doctors, who pointed out the Pill’s abortive capacity and its pollution of water supplies — with effects on male fertility.

The Catholic interest in Djerassi’s comments caused the liberal Guardian newspaper to talk of the church “pouncing” on the story and to find scientists to gainsay Dr Simon’s claims. An environmentalist website, Forum for the Future, followed suit, and referred to Dr Djerassi as a “very grumpy old man” who had given the church an opportunity to “justify all their own miserable anti-contraception prejudices”. ~ Der Standard (in German), December 13; Guardian, Jan 8

Heart risks. It is not necessary to be anti-contraception, however, to be wary of the Pill. An article in the January 20 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology notes that all the risks and benefits of this technology have yet to be established. “As women use these therapies more frequently and for longer periods of time, there is an urgent need to better understand and minimise associated cardiovascular risks,” wrote Dr C. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, in an overview of research on the subject.

Since 2000, death rates have increased in women between the ages of 35 and 44, while all other age groups have seen a decline. Among factors that may be contributing to the rise are increases in obesity and smoking, a decline in physical activity at this time of life, and a significant increase in the use of oral contraceptives. ~ Science Daily, Jan 17

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet