The Vatican and World Population Policy: An Interview with Milton P. Siegel

Article excerpt

There is a growing consensus among international public, health leaders that the gains made by their earliest practitioners are about to be lost as a result of overpopulation. The hideous scourge of premature death in Africa that we have been witnessing on our television screens for the last decade is spreading throughout the continent along with civil war.

Somalia is presently the focus of our attention, but there are many other African countries which are all but certain to slip into chaos. CIA director Robert Gates has predicted that, within the next year, there will be 30 million people starving in Africa alone.

A December 20, 1992, article from the National Geographic News Service identifies the fundamental problem in Africa: "Along with war and drought, the third horseman of the African apocalpyse has been overpopulation. There are simply more people trying to live on the land than the land can support "The article goes on to observe: "There doesn't seem to be any long, term solution short of transporting millions of Somalis out of there and leaving enough living space for the people and cattle that remain." But no country win accept these millions of Somalis and the tens of millions of other Africans who face the same prospect.

The result will be an explosion in premature deaths, just as some of the delegates who shaped United Nations health policy in the late 1940s had redicted. These leaders in public health recognized that the choice was not whether population growth would be controlled but how. Would birth control be implemented along with "death control," or would population-growth control be left to implacable nature through starvation and starvation-related diseases? They argued that this was the real choice they were making as they shaped World Health Organization policy. These leaders understood that, in the not-too-distant future, overpopulation would be a major - and preventable - cause of death.

But these people of vision lost that debate in the 1940s, and now premature death on an appalling scale is just getting underway in Africa. It is reasonable to predict that more than half of the Africans alive today will die prematurely, and that a substantial majority of African children born in this decade will die either in this decade or the next.

Because of his position and the length of his tenure, Milton P Siegel is considered among the world's foremost authorities on the development of World Health Organization policy. In this videotaped interview (available from the Center for Research on Population and Security, P.O. Box 13067, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, for $19), he reveals the influence of the Vatican in shaping WHO policy, particularly in blocking adoption of the concept that overpopulation is a grave public-health threat - a concept which, in WHO's early years, enjoyed a broad consensus among member countries.

Without this separation of population dynamics from WHO public,health policy, the Vatican would have found it much more difficult to subsequently manipulate governments on such issues as family planning and abortion. National leaders would have been able to refer to the international consensus, as demonstrated by WHO policy. WHO, they could have insisted, has determined that family planning and abortion - like clean water, good nutrition, and immunizations - are necessary to protect public health.

Professor Siegel has now decided to speak out on the subject. As he was involved in the World Health Organization at an early stage, his personal experience provides ample evidence that the Vatican influenced WHO policy development from the outset, during the early period of the the Interim Commission in 1946. In its 44-year history, this international health body has had a deplorable record in family planning. Its commitment has been miniscule, and even today family planning accounts for only a tiny fraction of its budget.

Professor Siegel joined the World Health Organization in 1946, when it was still in its formative stages - under the umbrella of the United Nations, created just the year before. …