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The cover of the November-December 1997 issue shows a pair of smiling 50-odd-year-olds with their artificially conceived twins. As a gynecologist, I applaud the devoted scientists and their hours of work that have led to such results. As a scientist, I extrapolate the rising curve of these achievements into the next century, and I see something remarkably like "Brave New World." There is no question that assisted reproductive technology produces results that are sentimentally gratifying. But what of the future?
Bruce A. Harris Jr. '39, M.D. '43
Harbour Hodder's "The New Fertility" (November-December 1997, page 54) raises many troubling questions about recent advances in medicine, but are they really more troubling than the questions raised in many other areas of medicine? Why do we hold infertility to a higher standard, demanding absolute safety and 100 percent success? There are several likely reasons for this double standard for infertility treatment.
Many new infertility treatment options are helping couples who could not have been helped even a few years ago. Our legal system is slow to understand the implications of these advances. Rather than restricting access, we should be encouraging the legal community to develop the safeguards that patients need.
Issues related to pregnancy and the unborn often inspire an emotional rather than purely clinical response in medicine.
Opponents often position the rare extreme example--63-year-old mothers, for example--as the norm.
"Test-tube babies" and other misleading images give an air of science-fiction fantasy to what are, in fact, methods of helping nature to do its job.
Many people think of infertility treatment as "elective," on a par with cosmetic surgery. But infertility is a disease that results in the malfunction of the reproductive system. And, as studies have shown, infertility's impact on an individual, couple, or family more closely resembles a diagnosis of cancer or HIV infection than the decision to have a nose job.
Those with infertility need to understand their treatment options and the related risks or unknowns. One important resource for this information is resolve, the national infertility patient organization. (Resolve's helpline is 617-623-0744.)
Reproductive medicine is now able to help more than 50 percent of all infertile couples who seek treatment. Yet other studies show that more than half of those with infertility never receive treatment. Patients deserve access to the appropriate treatments. Infertility treatment should be covered by medical-insurance plans and employee-benefit programs. What a shame that many thousands of people never get the help they need. This double standard is much to blame.
William Berry '81
New York City
Hodder writes: "At Boston IVF, the priest, rabbi, ethicist, social workers, and pediatricians on the board reviewed Bennett's case, concluding that her wish to perpetuate her genetic heritage through IVF in spite of her cancer was ethically sound." In American usage, "priest" without modifiers usually means "Roman Catholic priest." The word, in this context, gives a misleading representation that the project was blessed by an inclusive board that represents the major faiths and professional fields.
An individual priest or theologian cannot be understood to represent the views of the Catholic Church unless his pronouncements are consonant with the Church's authoritative teachings. On the issue of in vitro fertilization, the Church has clearly and repeatedly stated that such techniques are never ethical. The reasons are many. Among them are the following. First, it is never legitimate, natural, or psychologically healthy to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality. Second, because each human life is a gift from God, it goes against God's purposes to separate procreation from a loving marital act. Third, in vitro fertilization inevitably involves killing many embryos while bringing others to term. The usual procedure is to produce a large number of embryos, pick through them for the most promising, then discard the rest. This is an early form of abortion.
Socrates condemns as sophists philosophers who sell their professional expertise for money. Perhaps his view is too harsh, but it points to a potential conflict of interest. Ethicists and consultants who work for pay are bound to be swayed by the interests of those who pay them. By the very nature of its work, Boston IVF would not attract to its board a priest in community with the teachings of the Catholic Church because, according to authoritative Catholic teaching, no instance of in vitro fertilization is legitimate. In the same way, "ethicists" who work for such institutions can be presumed to have views aligned with the institutions' statement of purpose. They will be predisposed to produce decisions pleasing to those who pay them, or they would not be there in the first place.
Most clients of Boston IVF and similar operations will already be inclined to decide that they want a child by in vitro fertilization. In that they are within their legal rights. Right or wrong, they make the decision, as long as such services are available and the law permits them to be sold. But clients should not put much weight on having a priest or a panel of "ethicists" and "experts" bless their purposes. In the circumstances, this "ethical" advice is little more than a smoke screen, intended to salve the consciences of doctors, patients, and administrators who feel some need of a moral stamp of approval, and to weed out egregious cases that might lead to bad publicity or lawsuits.
As this article reveals, childlessness often involves tragic, heart-wrenching stories. But in vitro fertilization is not the ethical solution.
Anthony Low '57
Editor's note: Members of the board advising Boston IVF work without financial compensation.
Professor Michael McElroy quite rightly asks rhetorically ("A Warming World," November-December 1997, page 35), "is the science [of global warming] sound?" His reply is that the General Circulation Model relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that there will be a rise of 1 to 3.5 degrees Centigrade in the twenty-first century and a rise of 50 centimeters in sea levels.
What he does not tell us is that the GCM fails to predict backwards. That is, if you put in actual data up to some point in the past, the GCMs fall far short of predicting what actually happened thereafter. Even some of the inventors of the GCMs have danced away from their earlier scary predictions.
That's all the "science" that McElroy offers. He characterizes those who don't buy into his speculative scenarios as a "small minority of skeptics" who can be ignored because they publish in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times. Well, I have read a lot of that skepticism, and so far the skeptics have by far the better of the case.
John McClaughry, IOP '68
My job is to keep tabs on big environmental issues like climate change. Nowhere have I seen a more informative, more judicious summary than McElroy's. He presents both proven data and nagging uncertainties, but doesn't shy from a common- sense conclusion: when human beings double the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, they're conducting an open-ended experiment that's bound to have unforeseen and unpleasant consequences. And his prescription--a revenue-neutral carbon tax--is surely the most sensible, however unattractive to coal companies and the drivers of Grand Cherokees. Long life to him and his Chinese colleagues.
Conn Nugent '68, J.D. '73
New York City
Clearly, Mcelroy implies any conservative newspaper is bound to be wrong. I would assert that the Wall Street Journal is in general far more accurate than liberal journals such as Harvard Magazine. I note that McElroy takes exception to the fact that those he has labeled as skeptics "focus on deficiencies of the current generation of climate models." Of course they do. That's how they prove that those models are not correct.
Robert E. Machol '38
McElroy is correct that china has become one of the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is the principal contributor to global warming. What many readers may not appreciate is that, because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for about a century, most of today's elevated level results from coal and oil burned by the industrialized nations of the world over the past century. Despite China's large emissions, their overall contribution to elevated concentrations will remain modest for several decades.
In the long run, China, India, and other major industrializing countries will have to be part of a successful global climate agreement. In the short run, the industrialized world should take the first steps, since the cumulative effect of their emissions created the current problem.
M. Granger Morgan '63
Head, Department of Engineering and
Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
WANTED: CANDOR AND CIVILITY
I read the article about Professor Ruth Wisse, "Mame-loshn at Harvard" (July-August 1997, page 33), with great pleasure since it represented a sea change in Harvard's relationships with Jews since my graduation. It is my recollection that the Harvard Crimson estimated then that one-quarter to one-third of Harvard's Jewish population hid their religion to avoid discrimination.
A letter from Michael Sterner '51 in response to the article (September-October 1997, page 4) brought back memories of that period. I do not know Sterner, but looked him up in my various reunion books. Wouldn't it have been nice if he, while viciously attacking Wisse and Israel, had made the full disclosure that he had been a career Foreign Service officer during the period of much pro-Arab sentiment in that service, was ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and had worked for Aramco, a very pro-Arab oil conglomerate. The veracity of just about everything he writes should be judged from that perspective. How "modest" of him to leave out his distinguished credentials.
I, too, worked at the State Department for the Kennedy administration and assistant secretary for congressional relations Brooks Hays (before we both moved to the White House). Hays instructed me to review for him every letter to be sent to a member of Congress that had been drafted by a Foreign Service officer for his signature, to purge all unjustified anti-Israeli sentiments. I hasten to add that Hays was a great friend of genuine Arab interests.
I make no apologies for my pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli sentiments, although I am known for attempting to seek accommodations. In that regard, I have many differences with Wisse and Zionism myself. In our twenty-fifth class report, in 1976, I'm pleased to note that Sterner calls for "civility of discourse." He has every right to state his views forcefully, however wrongheaded they may be, but does he think he passes the "civility test" when he states that Wisse's opinions go "a long way toward placing her view of what Zionism means on the same moral plane as Nazism"? I would not want to conclude this letter without emphasizing how proud I am of the State Department (and the Foreign Service) for now having become a far more balanced and even-handed entity than it was for decades as it attempts to build peace in the Middle East.
Warren I. Cikins '51
I was shocked to see the "ACT UP" postcard on page 80 of the November-December 1997 issue. I and many other alumni found it offensive. Surely there are better ways to communicate the achievements of MacArthur fellow Mark Harrington.
Will Ford Hartnett '78
HITCHHIKING TO HARVARD
as an infantryman in France in 1945, soon after his graduation...|
...and as a lawyer in Boston, 1997.
"Entering Harvard" (November-December 1997, page 87) by my classmate and fellow resident of Matthews South, Joseph Grandine, describing his travel to Cambridge in 1940 and his first few days there, prompts me to describe my own journey to Harvard at the same time.
Joe came from a farm in Wisconsin. I lived in the farming village of Waterville, New York (population 1,500), about 14 miles south of Utica. I was the seventh oldest in a family of 12. My father, who was a baker, had died while I was a sophomore in high school. In his last job he made $18 for working a full six-day week. Love and support were abundant in the Byrnes family, but money was very scarce.
In those days, boys and men who did not have cars, and who could not afford to travel by bus or train, hitchhiked to any place that they could not reach by bicycle or on foot. Accordingly, when I left for Harvard one September morning, I walked to Sangerfield, a hamlet on Route 20 about a mile from Waterville. Route 20 was then the main east-west highway between Boston and Oregon (now supplanted, of course, by the Massachusetts turnpike, the New York thruway, and other portions of the interstate highway system).
I was soon picked up by a truck driver driving a new truck from someplace west of Sangerville, where the truck had been manufactured. He told me he was going only as far as Albany. Eventually, before we reached Albany, having apparently decided he did not need to exercise the option he had reserved to himself of dropping me off there as a disagreeable traveling companion, he revealed that he was in fact taking the truck to Watertown, Massachusetts. He drove me all the way to Watertown Square. There I boarded a trolley to Harvard Square. Total cash outlay for my travel of approximately 270 miles from Waterville, New York, to Cambridge: 10 cents.
Unlike Joe, I knew very well where the dining hall was. In addition to a scholarship, I had won a highly coveted job as a waiter in the Freshman Union. The terms of this employment were that if you waited on tables for three meals every other day and every other Sunday, that would take care of your board bill. Without that job to supplement my scholarship, Harvard would have been out of the question for me.
My total budget for my freshman year was a little under $1,000. The major items were: tuition ($400) and room ($100), both covered by my $500 scholarship, and meals ($300), taken care of by my job as a waiter. The rest was for books and supplies, postage (mainly mailing my laundry back to my mother, who washed it and returned it, sometimes with cookies or other treats), entertainment (hah!), and miscellaneous. The amounts required above my scholarship and my job as a waiter were supplied by $25 I had saved from a graduation prize at Waterville High School, small amounts of cash that I received from my older siblings from time to time, and jobs of all descriptions from the student employment office. The most prized of these was giving blood at the Massachusetts General Hospital (arranged through the student employment office) for the princely sum of $25.
Norman T. Byrnes '44, LL.B. '48
THE TROUBLED BOOK BUSINESS
In 1965 I published an article, "Any Room for the Author in the Great Society?" criticizing book publishers for their treatment of authors. Unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse now that most publishers are owned and controlled by corporations with no experience in book publishing.
In a troubled industry ("High Type Culture" by Craig Lambert, November-December 1997, page 38), blame can be widely apportioned. We all know of books poorly edited or proofed, and one wonders what editors are doing when not entertaining their bread-and-butter authors at lavish luncheons. More important, why has the break-even point risen to 30,000 copies unless it is to help pay off authors dealt multimillion-dollar advances?
Frederick Reinstein '37
For want of editing, "Editor Extraordinaire" Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus & Giroux makes the gaffe of stating that Procter & Gamble sells Colgate toothpaste. However successful the marketing geniuses at P&G have been, they have yet to seize this long-established Colgate Palmolive Company brand.
Winthrop Drake Thies, J.D. '59
I was happy to learn that old Professor Osseforp is still at it ("The College Pump," November-December 1997, page 84). Do you suppose he realizes that there is another school that might adopt "Edit No Smircog!" as a new cheer?
Solomon W. Golomb, Ph.D. '57
Editor's note: Golomb was Osseforp's first interviewer (March 1972, page 45).
PURITANS NOT BLOODTHIRSTY
"Divilish Practices," about hanging Crimes in the Bay Colony in 1642 (November-December 1997, page 100), was informative both as an illustration of prevailing attitudes in the Puritan theocracy and as a glimpse into the rare-book business.
Nevertheless, it does injustice to our New England ancestors--among them the founders of Harvard College--in portraying them as bloodthirsty bigots seeking every opportunity to inflict the penalty of death upon their neighbors for minor and natural human failings.
Certainly, punishments were harsh (and prompt) in that era, and many laws trespassed inexcusably upon personal liberty. Yet it should be made clear that the constant reiteration of the death penalty was intended more as a solemn caution, a warning of the moral depravity attached to certain acts, or as a reminder of the standard of personal conduct expected by God, than as an absolute legal directive to courts and judges. In practice, very few persons were executed for these crimes, and judges had very wide latitude in mitigating sentences.
According to Edwin Powers, in his Crime and Punishment in Early Massachusetts--and his credentials as an authority are well established--only 57 persons are known to have been executed in the Bay Colony between 1630 and 1692. (Admittedly, records for some periods are missing or fragmentary.) Twenty-five of these were for serious crimes that would be considered as such today. Twenty-three were for witchcraft, most of them associated with the well-known Salem episode. Two only for adultery, in a case with some very unpleasant attending circumstances, and two for bestiality. None (as far as the records reveal) for blasphemy, for false witness, or for homosexuality. To be sure, many convicted of such crimes suffered severe whippings, but others received penalties consisting mainly of shame and embarrassment. Some, with mitigating circumstances, enjoyed a degree of sympathy from the court. Imprisonment was not favored as a penalty.
It can hardly be argued that the Puritan regime was one of particular tolerance, but it is very easy, and much too common, to exaggerate its intolerance and severity.
Robert B. Shaw, M.B.A. '39
CLOSING THE TASTY
I am devastated and dismayed to read of the plans to close or "relocate" the Harvard Square dining icon, The Tasty (September-October, 1997, page 79)! What a sad day for Cambridge, and the reassuring familiarity of the Square's many distinctive façades. Shame on the developers.
Cynthia Perez '95
READ THE ROCKS: THE ANSWERS
In "Lessons in Stone" by David B. Williams (November-December 1997, page 47), the editors invited readers to test their powers of mineralogical observation by taking a quiz. The questions--and answers:
Question 1: Where at Harvard will one find mega-tonnage of 480-million-year-old white marble? Answer: The Medical School.
Question 2: What academic building displays gray-black Rockport Granite with conspicuous drill holes in some of the blocks that indicate how the rock was quarried? Answer: Boylston Hall.
And question 3: This frog inhabits a buff sandstone capital and has dragonflies, owls, and various fantastical creatures for neighbors. Name the building and the species of human Harvardian most often seen there. Answers: Austin Hall, lawyers in training.
On November 20, as promised, the editors selected at random from the correct answers in hand the submission of Anndy Rosen of Newton, Massachusetts. For her estimable work, she will receive a copy of senior editor John T. Bethell's forthcoming book, Harvard Observed, scheduled for publication this coming fall, and a walking tour of the campus guided by author David Williams (transportation to Cambridge not included). The editors also award the very same prizes to Sharon M. Perry, Ed.M. '74, from San Diego, not because she got all the questions right (she put the white marble at Langdell Hall, which is limestone), but because she knew the precise name of the species of Harvardian most often seen at Austin Hall: Australopithecus tyroavocatus.