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Paternal-fetal conflict.

The attempt to reduce birth defects has proceeded by various strategies; among them, large notices in bars instructing pregnant women of the risk to fetuses posed by alcohol, corporate policies (now unconstitutional) banning fertile women from jobs considered hazardous to fetal health, and in Florida, for example, incarceration of pregnant women for delivering drugs to a minor via the umbilical cord.

The March of Dimes is taking a different approach. Under the slogan, "Men have babies, too," it has launched a campaign to increase public awareness of fathers' contribution to their future children's health (NY Times, 25 December 1991). There is recent evidence that a man's exposure to toxins not only reduces sperm count (which has long been known) but also damages sperm, causing abnormal fetal development and thereby increasing the woman's risk of miscarriage and still-birth.

Further, even if the baby is brought to term, damaged sperm results in offspring with various neurological or physical disabilities; for example, male rats exposed to lead for two months before mating produced babies who had trouble learning how to swim. The March of Dimes is funding at least eight new studies to seek further data on what damages sperm and how such sperm in turn damages the resultant child.

In a spirit of helpfulness, we herewith offer a list of known substances men should avoid for at least three months before intentionally or accidentally impregnanting a woman:

* Lead, industrial solvents, certain pesticides, marijuana smoke, arsenic, and vinyl chloride, all of which produce miscarriages.

* Petroleum products, spray paints, and ionizing radiation, which produce childhood leukemia.

* Cigarette smoke and alcohol, both of which produce stillbirths and learning disabilities.

In addition, future fathers should shun certain jobs. David A. Savitz at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health notes a higher than average incidence of brain cancer in children whose fathers are auto mechanics, machine repairmen, or electronics workers. And dentists who use nitrous oxide in their practice tend to produce an unusually high rate of stillbirths and miscarriages in the women they impregnate.

And a study of workers in British Columbia in the October issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine correlates masculine logging, pumping gas, painting, and work in paper mills with spina bifida in the workers' offspring, while heart defects are linked to fathers' working as firefighters, metal-workers, sawmill workers, and janitors.

In the matter of crack babies, a study in JAMA (9 October 1991) demonstrates that cocaine can bind directly onto sperm without affecting its viability or motility, thus opening the possibility that the sperm may carry the hitchhiking cocaine into an ovum. This could produce an embryo damaged even before implantation, without the woman's ever having touched the substance. Other toxins might enter the ovum by the same route.

Could a man be arrested in Florida for delivering drugs to a minor via - ? Oh, never mind. -- HLN
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Title Annotation:father's contribution to future children's health
Author:Nelson, Hilde L.
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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