A recent writer has actually cited mortality statistics to prove the futility of vivisection. The figures do show that in England since 1850 certain organic diseases have been on the increase, despite the slight advance in our knowledge of them. At first blush this table given by Leffingwell strikes one as a serious argument against the utility of research. On closer inspection, however, it only reveals the astute cunning of this author in the selection of his diseases. Almost without exception these maladies lie very deep in the hereditary tendencies of the race, and we could not expect them to be checked and reversed in so short a time. With increase of wealth and advance in civilization the chance that defectives may leave enfeebled progeny is greatly increased, and that there has not been an even greater increase in these diseases is cause for congratulation. But even if the statistics would support the significance Leffingwell attaches to them, what are we to do about it? The only courageous course would seem to be to acknowledge the extreme difficulty of the problems involved and attack them with redoubled energy. Over two thousand years of clinical observation and empiricism have probably about exhausted possibilities in these directions, so that our only hope would seem to lie in experiment; and the less preliminary experimenting on men, the better. If Leffingwell had been able to prove from statistics that there is no curable disease in the world, he would have had a strong argument. As it stands, however, it must be acknowledged to be the strongest possible argument for the side of research.
The chief point of unfairness of the table lies in Leffingwell's selection of diseases. Why confine attention to statistics of organic disease? In acute diseases, where we would naturally look for the first fruits of scientific work, the gain has been considerable.
In support of this, we may quote a few passages from Newsholme's Vital Statistics. On page 273 he says: "If these children" (the 858,878 born annually in England) "be traced through life, the changes in the death-rates occurring 1871-1880, as compared with 1838-1854, would result in an addition of 1,800,047 years of life shared among them; and since this number of births occurs annually, it may be reasonably inferred that there is an annual addition of nearly 2,000,000 years of life to the community, the greater share in which must be ascribed to sanitary measures. . . . In the decennium 1871-1880, the death-rate from fever fell from an annual average of 885 per million to 484, a decline of forty-five per cent" (page 183). For scarlet fever the decline between 1875 and 1885 was forty-nine per cent (page 185).
From tables, page 101, we see that the death-rate per 1,000 in
- Albert Leffingwell. Vivisection, p. 75, Boston, Mass., 1889 (date of introduction).