David Lamb's article about the possible effects of Agent Orange on Vietnamese comes to all the wrong conclusions. He describes the misfortunes of the My family. Mr. My, a former colonel in the North Vietnamese Army died at 62, and two of his five children were born with serious birth defects.
Why would anyone accept Mr. My's announcement that "Agent Orange" was the cause of his fatal disease without some sort or medical or scientific information to back it up? Well, Mr. Lamb doesn't accept it; he merely reports that Mr. My's wife believes it, and somehow that's to convince us it's true.
Birth defects are common. According to a United States Air Force study, one of every five children born to Air Force veterans who had sprayed Agent Orange had a minor or serious birth defect. The birth defects weren't caused by Agent Orange. The same rate of birth defects was observed in men who had never sprayed Agent Orange.
People die at relatively young ages, like 62, in Vietnam, and children are born with birth defects in Vietnam. People die at relatively young ages and children are born with birth defects in all countries.
Hard heartedly and scientifically, it makes far more sense to treat illnesses and birth defects in Vietnam as they are treated in other countries. To spend money on efforts to link Agent Orange with common diseases that have many known causes is to squander funds that can treat suffering people. To barrack and parade deformed children in "Peace Villages" may elicit symphathy, but it's certainly degrading to children who already have burdens to bear.
Richer countries have spent billions investigating possible links between diseases and birth defects and Agent Orange and the dioxin in it. They have found nothing convincing. If there's money available to Vietnam, it would be better and more compassionately spent on treating the sick, finding and removing the land mines that continue to kill and main, and caring for children born with birth defects.
Michael Gough, Ph.D.
Member, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board committee that reviewed EPA's 1994 dioxin risk assessment.
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