A first step in the trivialization of iatrogenic violence


This paper was published on 03 Nov, 2010, by the British Medical Journal, as a rapid response to a News (27 Sept, 2010) on the influence of hormones on the incidence of breast cancer

That “the emperor has no clothes” (as stated by E. G. Breen) does not only concern the risk of breast cancer, but also the innumerable hazards of hormonal contraceptives: cardiovascular or muco-cutaneous adverse reactions, effects on libido, etc. But even more, it concerns the staggering myopia of the scientific community regarding this iatrogenic toll.

I am currently reading a paper from women’s magazines, written by a gynecologist colleague who acknowledges that “hormonal fluctuations” may certainly play a role in the development of vaginal mycosis, without saying one word regarding those hormonal fluctuations potentially due to the pill… Likewise, other papers in the lay press make me know that when an attempt was made to submit elephants to hormonal contraception in order to limit their overpopulation in the Kruger National Park (South Africa), this triggered an intolerable “traumatism in the horde” as females were “permanently” on heat. To say nothing on the now classical lamentation regarding the threat on fish reproduction due to the release of hormonal contraceptives in natural water…

In his famous book (whose subtitle was significantly altered in its French translation as “La brutalisation des sociétés européennes” Brutalization of European Societies), the historian George L. Mosse explained how the first world war, with its unprecedented savagery, accounted for a brutalization of postwar politics and a trivialization of war with far-reaching consequences in the development of Nazism and subsequent atrocities [1]. All other things being equal, it seems to me that one could consider the introduction of oral contraceptives, at the beginning of de 60ties (and with incredibly high doses of estrogens in that time), as an unheard-of violence in the history of medicine, all the more terrifying that it was not aimed at curing any disease but simply at modifying probably the most valued object of humanity (for the aim of easy consumption): female body [2]… This formidable transgression went far beyond a betrayal of Hippocratic principles to go up to something close to sacrilege; once this barrier was over, the door was open for a reorientation of pharmaceutical research based upon an absolute contempt for human body in its integrity and its beauty. To that extent, one can say that the development of hormonal contraceptives accounted for the contemporary trivialization of iatrogenic hazards and brutalization of medical care, of which we are now the powerless witnesses.

[1] G. L. Mosse. Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990

[2] M. Girard. La brutalisation du corps féminin dans la médecine moderne

Competing interests Dr M. Girard works as an independent consultant for pharmaceutical firms, including a number of contraceptives manufacturers.