Modern Medicine & Family Histories

By Michael Edmonds 29/12/2013 2


Modern medical treatments, including vaccines, have helped extend life expectancies and quality of life through the prevention and treatment of disease. This fact is sometimes missed by those who oppose vaccines, criticise modern medicine and promote dubious “alternative” therapies. One reason for not seeing the benefits of modern medicine is that we take much of it for granted, and seldom see the effects of diseases of the past.

I have recently had the privilege of reading a family history of my great, great, great grandparents, James and Gerinia Ryan, and their descendants, put together by Eleanor Watt. It is fascinating reading, and also sobering when considering the deaths of four of their 15 children who did not make it past the age of 5.

George Edward Ryan died in July 1871 at 15 months of age from bronchitis

John Albert Ryan died in April 1878 at 13 months of age from deutitis (inflammation of the gums) and bronchitis

Jane Isabella Ryan died in June 1884 at 4 years of age from measles and pleurisy

Gerinia Eliza Ethel Ryan died in July 1884 at 9 months of age from measles and bronchitis

Critics of modern medicine often focus on diseases we have yet to find cures for, but in doing so they ignore the many successes – if born today the diseases which took these children’s lives are readily treatable.

I wonder what critics of modern medicine would find if they looked closely their family histories? How many relatives might they have lost to diseases now readily treatable?


2 Responses to “Modern Medicine & Family Histories”

  • The same goes for many scientific advances. Food Safety is a case in point, deaths and illness from food poisoning – and not just bacteriological poisons – have been minimised through the use of technology in food manufacture, from the application of simple hygiene in food production, to the regulation of “what’s in our food”. Early last century lead compounds were routinely used to colour food, for example. A food manufacturer’s store cupboard of products to colour, thicken, preserve, sweeten, etc is heavily regulated, both in what can be used and the levels. Our food supply is safe and nutritious, thanks to modern technology.

    • Anne

      Good point about the improvements in food safety – the sweetness of lead certainly lead to it’s unfortunate use in a range of foods before it’s toxicity was understand.
      Our modern food supply is certainly much safer and nutritious, though it is important to acknowledge that some of our new eating patterns and excesses with certain foods creates some a whole new set of health concerns.