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Pence’s damaging legacy to Indiana

| Wednesday, April 19, 2017

As a pediatrician practicing in southern Indiana since 1989, I have sought to apply my Notre Dame education and Catholic faith to fight for true transparency on the contribution of pollution to infant mortality and other public health benchmarks. It’s been nothing short of a nightmare, and the most significant but evasive factor has been Mike Pence.

Last fall, I was honored to give one of the Dr. Tom Dooley Society lectures to Notre Dame medical alumni, explaining how then-Gov. Pence maintained what amounted to a de facto gag order, prohibiting state government employees to connect certain pollution to public health outcomes. Afterward, I was told that my talk was an “eye opener.”

Not only does my county own Indiana’s highest infant mortality from 2011-2014, but several nearby counties have special education rates as high as 27 percent. Furthermore, hypospadias incidence — a male birth defect involving a malformed penis — at my hospital went from 1.8 percent in 2014 to 2.4 percent in 2016, worsening from five times to now six times the national rate. According to scientists at the University of Chicago, male birth defect rates strongly correlate with autism and intellectual disability — and all are indicators of pre-natal exposure to harmful environmental factors.

After last fall’s massive southwestern Indiana air quality alert, six premature babies were born within seven days at our small rural hospital — unlikely to be statistical artifact. However, then-Gov. Pence’s initiative to combat Indiana’s bottom-dwelling infant mortality won’t be connecting the dots without valid regional air quality data. Thanks to the inspiration of Notre Dame’s Dr. Kristin Shrader-Frechette, my research into flaws in Indiana air quality science has been published by the Catholic Medical Association, the Section on Bioethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the 2016 Scientific Committee of the International Congress of Pediatrics in Vancouver, British Columbia. My resolutions calling attention to these policies were passed by the Indiana State Medical Association House of Delegates (2014, 2015, 2016) and the Annual Leadership Forum of the American Academy of Pediatrics (2016).

In “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis wrote, “A sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly.” Large scale, incognito sacrifice zones are a mathematical certainty and characteristic trademark of far too many Trump-Pence policies. The only question is whether we will rationalize them retrospectively or courageously try to prevent them from occurring.

I don’t oppose Vice President Pence’s return to campus. However, conferring an honorary degree gives Mr. Pence and the Trump administration undeserved, dangerous legitimacy and publicity, substantially endorsing flawed science and leadership and making it even more impossible for advocates to ever affect accountability or meaningful change. Pence’s legacy in southern Indiana is an ongoing, deliberate tragedy for Indiana children and those that care for them. I personally think that defective penises, high prematurity, infant mortality and special education rates are shameful and should be condemned, not honored, by the University.

Norma Jean Schue Kreilein, MD, Fellow, American Academy of Pediatrics

BS 1982 Preprofessional Studies with Honors

April 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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