Friday, June 29, 2007


The NHS chequebook proves it

The family of a premature baby who died after emergency surgery to the wrong lung have agreed an out-of-court settlement with the hospital trust concerned. Clarke Jackson was born three months prematurely at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, in April 2004, weighing 2.2lb (1kg). He died less than 11 hours later. The child’s family have pursued a legal claim against the hospital trust insisting that medical staff made a series of errors that led, at least in part, to the baby’s death.

The hospital has acknowledged that an X-ray examination revealed a problem with the baby’s left lung but that it went on to treat his right lung instead. Clarke continued to struggle for breath as his condition deteriorated.

Katrina Jackson, 34, the baby’s mother, has also claimed that staff failed to check on her during her 17-hour labour, that she was left to give birth alone and that there was nobody present to give emergency care immediately after the birth. These claims are denied by the trust, which insists that the child was so poorly he was unlikely to survive.

Mrs Jackson, of Manchester, said that the circumstances of Clarke’s death had left her wondering whether he could have lived had he been given immediate care. Mrs Jackson, who has three other children, said: “Clarke was breathing, kicking and showing all the normal signs of life when he was born. We believe he would have had a good chance with better care.

“It has left us with the question, ‘What if?’ I was in the hospital for five weeks, yet when the moment came to ensure the safest possible delivery the hospital staff just were not there doing basic things. “I had to insist on seeing Clarke’s medical records. If I hadn’t, we would have been brushed aside with the explanation that he as too poorly and wouldn’t have made it. Getting left and right mixed up has killed my son.”

The family have agreed to accept an undisclosed five-figure sum. Adam Smith, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “This is an alarming and tragic case where hospital staff made fundamental errors.” A spokesman for the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust said: “A full investigation was carried out by the trust and lessons have been learnt to minimise the risk of this tragedy occurring again. “Clarke was very poorly and was unlikely to survive but the trust has accepted that the clinical error contributed to his tragic death.


A woman with a twin brother has fewer children

Patriarchy in the womb? Let's see the feminists get around this one! Not that the facts bother them, of course

TWIN brothers can leave quite an impression. The mere presence of a boy in the same womb as his sister causes her to develop bigger teeth than she otherwise would. Girls with twin brothers perform better on spatial-ability tests. They have better ball skills than most females; squarer, more masculine jaws and are more likely to be short-sighted. Now it seems that sharing the womb also has a deleterious effect on the sexual reproduction of women with a twin brother.

Virpi Lummaa of the University of Sheffield, in Britain, and her colleagues made the claim after studying detailed data from several generations of church records from many parishes in Finland. To ensure their findings were not skewed by modern health care, they confined their investigation to the years before Finns gained access both to contraception and assisted conception.

They report that women with a twin brother were 15% less likely to get married than were women with a twin sister. Those with a male twin also had a 25% lower chance of giving birth even though they lived just as long as those with a female twin. When the researchers considered only married women, those with a twin brother on average had two fewer children during their lifetimes than did women with a twin sister. And finally—to rule out any influence of sharing a house as well as a womb—Dr Lummaa checked the results were the same for women whose twin brothers died before they were three months old. They were. The researchers reported their findings in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As with the teeth and the jaw lines, the purported cause of atypical female biology is early exposure to testosterone. This hormone is made by a male fetus's developing testes from about seven weeks after conception and is thought to diffuse through the amniotic fluid, influencing his sister's growth. But the exact mechanism by which a twin brother lowers his sister's chances of reproductive success is unclear.

Lesbianism is one possibility. (To what extent is impossible to tell, because the Lutheran ministers charged with collecting exhaustive demographic details did not probe quite that far.) But physiology could also play a part. Some cancers of the reproductive system, and a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, which reduces fertility, are more common in women with relatively high early exposure to male hormones.

Dr Lummaa's results also suggest that, if a woman wishes to maximise the chances of passing on her genes, she would do better to avoid producing pairs of twins consisting of one boy and one girl and go for a single-sex combination instead. Mothers included in the study who produced opposite-sex twins had 19% fewer grandchildren than did mothers who gave birth to same-sex twins.

Evolutionary theory thus predicts that there should be fewer pairs of girl-and-boy non-identical twins than single-sex pairs of non-identical twins. Whether that is so requires another set of figures. Finnish church records, helpful as they are, do not distinguish non-identical same-sex twins from identical ones. In the eyes of God, unlike those of natural selection, twin girls are created equal.


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