“I have drunk from wells I did not dig; I have been warmed by fires I did not build.” Law professor, Robert Fellmeth, opened with this ancient anonymous saying in his recent address before the Second North American Dr. Carl Menninger Youth Care Conference.
Fellmeth focused on the obligation of the human species to its children – “not just its direct children, but their children and their children and their children – into the millenia.” This Professor knows how to construct a devastating indictment as he did when he worked with us as a law student and young lawyer twenty years ago. Fellmeth draws tough conclusions of massive neglect and cruelty from mounds of facts – to wit; “According to the State of the World’s Children report of UNICEF, one million children die each month from under nutrition and infection. These children do not die of exotic diseases requiring sophisticated medical treatment. ‘They die in the coma of dehydration caused by diarrhoeal disease. They die in the distress of measles. They die in the spasms of tetanus. They die in the retchings of whooping cough. They die in long drawn-out process of frequent illness and poor nutrition which gradually loses their grip on life. ‘”
“The underlying contributors are lack of vaccines; cultural and educational contributors to birth control, proper child pacing and weaning; lack of simple resources; and ignorance about elementary remedies.” Example: a simple water-soft-sugar drink could save millions of children of dying annually of diarrhoeal dehydration. Experts estimate that the total cost of preventing these deaths and instituting effective birth control is one half of one percent of the world’s economic output or a doubling of current aid levels from developed nations.
Fellmeth quotes Worldwatch Institute, a Washington D.C. – based research group which declares that “nutrition, education, immunization and low-cost treatments for common third world diseases could cut child deaths in half.”
The Worldwatch Institute estimates that “the investment needed for family planning, primary health care, clean drinking water and food sufficiency will be substantial, but corresponds to… [one] half of one percent of the world’s economic output.”
Turning his attention to the United States Fellmeth notes that the U.S. is 18th in the world in overall infant mortality behind Spain and Singapore. A black baby born in Indianapolis, Detroit, or in the shadow of the White House and the U.S. Capitol was more likely to die in the first year of life in 1986 than a baby born in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, Panama, Rumania or the Soviet Union.
The cost of eliminating these avoidable tragedies is small compared to the cost of redundant globe destroying weapon systems Fellmeth adds. It costs $600 to provide a mother adequate prenatal care. It costs about a $1000 a day to try save premature babies in intensive care units.
Eliminating poverty through properly administered programs would cost our economy about one percent of the nation’s Gross National Product per year, which is a fraction of what the cost disease, crime and other social individual disorders will cost the country. Fellmeth calls for more child advocacy groups to put power behind the fundamental drive for children’s well being. He is practicing what he preaches because he has started a world child defense organization out of San Diego, where he teaches law at University of San Diego Law School.
(Copies of his speech are available by writing to: Robert Fellmeth, University of San Diego Law School, San Diego, California 92110).