Editor’s note: The full title of this continuing series didn’t fit within our headline format:
(17) America’s low ranking on international comparisons of infant mortality proves other countries’ socialist health care systems are better than ours.
America has had a comparatively high infant mortality rate since we’ve been measuring these things, going back to at least the ‘20s. This was the case long before European countries adopted their cradle-to-grave welfare schemes and all while the U.S. was the wealthiest country on Earth.
One factor contributing to the U.S.‘s infant mortality rate is that blacks have intractably high infant mortality rates—irrespective of age, education, socioeconomic status and so on. No one knows why.
Neither medical care nor discrimination can explain it: Hispanics in the U.S. have lower infant mortality rates than either blacks or whites. Give Switzerland or Japan our ethnically diverse population and see how they stack up on infant mortality rates.
Even with a higher-risk population, the alleged differences in infant mortality are negligible. We’re talking about 7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in the U.S. compared to 5 deaths per 1,000 for Britain and Canada. This is a rounding error—perhaps literally when you consider that the U.S. tabulates every birth, even in poor, small and remote areas, while other countries are not always so meticulous.
But the international comparisons in “infant mortality” rates aren’t comparing the same thing, anyway. We also count every baby who shows any sign of life, irrespective of size or weight at birth.
By contrast, in much of Europe, babies born before 26 weeks’ gestation are not considered “live births.” Switzerland only counts babies who are at least 30 centimeters long (11.8 inches) as being born alive. In Canada, Austria and Germany, only babies weighing at least a pound are considered live births.
And of course, in Milan it’s not considered living if the baby isn’t born within driving distance of the Côte d’Azur.
By excluding the little guys, these countries have simply redefined about one-third of what we call “infant deaths” in America as “miscarriages.”
Moreover, many industrialized nations, such as France, Hong Kong and Japan—the infant mortality champion—don’t count infant deaths that occur in the 24 hours after birth. Almost half of infant deaths in the U.S. occur in the first day.
Also contributing to the higher mortality rate of U.S. newborns: Peter Singer lives here.
But members of Congress, such as Reps. Dennis Kucinich, Jim Moran and John Olver, have all cited the U.S.‘s relatively poor ranking in infant mortality among developed nations as proof that our medical care sucks. This is despite the fact that in many countries a baby born the size of Dennis Kucinich would not be considered a live birth.
Apart from the fact that we count—and try to save—all our babies, infant mortality is among the worst measures of a nation’s medical care because so much of it is tied to lifestyle choices, such as the choice to have children out of wedlock, as teenagers or while addicted to crack.
The main causes of infant mortality—aside from major birth defects—are prematurity and low birth-weight. And the main causes of low birth-weight are: smoking, illegitimacy and teenage births. Americans lead most of the developed world in all three categories. Oh, and thank you for that, Britney Spears.
Although we have a lot more low birth-weight and premature babies for both demographic and lifestyle reasons, at-risk newborns are more likely to survive in America than anywhere else in the world. Japan, Norway and the other countries with better infant mortality rates would see them go through the roof if they had to deal with the same pregnancies that American doctors do.
As Nicholas Eberstadt demonstrates in his book “The Tyranny of Numbers: Mismeasurement and Misrule,” American hospitals do so well with low birth-weight babies that if Japan had our medical care with their low birth-weight babies, another third of their babies would survive, making it even harder for an American kid to get into MIT.
But I think it’s terrific that liberals are finally willing to start looking at outcomes to judge a system. I say we start right away with the public schools!
In international comparisons, American 12th-graders rank in the 14th percentile in math and the 29th percentile in science. The U.S. outperformed only Cyprus and South Africa in general math and science knowledge. Worse, Asian countries didn’t participate in the last 12th-grade assessment tests.
Imagine how much worse our public schools would look—assuming that were possible—if we allowed other countries to exclude one-half of their worst performers!
That’s exactly what liberals are doing when they tout America’s rotten infant mortality rate compared to other countries. They look for any category that makes our medical care look worse than the rest of the world—and then neglect to tell us that the rest of the world counts our premature and low birth-weight babies as “miscarriages.”
As long as American liberals are going to keep announcing that they’re embarrassed for their country, how about being embarrassed by our public schools or by our ridiculous trial lawyer culture that other countries find laughable?
Don’t be discouraged, liberals—when it comes to utterly frivolous lawsuits against obstetricians presented to illiterate jurors so that John and Elizabeth Edwards can live in an 80-room house, we’re still No. 1!
Editor’s note: Also see the the closely related columnby Barbara Kay, “The case for the (almost) status quo in American health care”