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Opinion Pieces
June 19, 2005
Dumbing Down Can Sometimes Be An Upward Move


By Joe Klock, Sr.

Although an end, no matter how desirable, does not justify any or all means employed to justify it, there are times and situations when it does - in some cases flying in the faces of tradition and orthodoxy.

More than 40 years ago, a teenage girl fell victim to a disgusting malady which, while virtually (and blessedly) unknown in Western nations, still afflicts millions of young females, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Her name was and is Mamitu Gashe, and she survived to become one of the world's most experienced and renowned gynecological surgeons, specializing in repairing the condition, called obstetric fistula, which nearly ruined her life in its early stages.

Married and pregnant at 15, she endured three days of hard labor before delivering a stillborn baby; a normal birth had been precluded by her immature pelvis and probable malnutrition.

Elsewhere and in later years, a C-section would have enabled an unremarkable delivery, rather than a dead baby and a mother with ravaged internal organs.

The sordid details needn't be described here, except to say that the violent labor turns its victims almost literally into walking sewers. With no control of their bladders and/or bowels, they become social pariahs, usually abandoned by their spouses and shunned by their communities.

Mamitu was fortunate in that she was taken, albeit belatedly, to a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a team of volunteer surgeons repaired the damage free of charge.

That is not, however, the focus of this opusette.

After recovering, the young patient took a menial job at the hospital, progressed to helping during surgeries and, after a couple of "observing" years, began to assist with the surgeries and eventually performed and actually perfected the procedure herself.

Fast-forward to today, when gynecologists from around the world go to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital to be trained in the repair technique by the same Mamitu Gashe.

Here's the punch line, though: Until a very few years ago, this distinguished surgeon, who hadn't attended a day of school in her childhood, was functionally illiterate! (She is currently in the third grade at night school.)

But neither is that remarkable (and entirely true) story our focus here.

The point we'd like to make is that daunting educational qualifications (the means) may be depriving people in many walks of life of needed services (the ends) which could be provided by practitioners with something less than "full professional" credentials.

Mamitu couldn't read or write, and had no formal medical training, but she could and did repair obstetric fistulas!

Along with most of my fellow Marines in World War II, I never saw a full-fledged physician during my tour of duty. Navy "corpsmen" dealt with our physical problems, except for serious conditions beyond their areas of expertise.

And now, increasingly, Physicians' Assistants and Nurse Practitioners are helping to make health care more available and less costly by taking routine treatment out of overqualified hands.

Ditto paralegals in Lawland and traffic deputies in law enforcement.

Handymen (okay, okay, and women, too) are efficiently and economically handling chores beyond the skills of the ordinary householder, but not demanding those of master plumbers, electricians, carpenters and other craftspersons (got it that time!).

Want a suggestion from the far left field of religion? Why not part-time Catholic priests to alleviate the growing shortage of ordained celibate males?

Good people with minimal training could preside at Mass celebrations, "feeding the sheep" (as Jesus mandated), without the preconditions of prolonged training and the restrictions of gender and marital status.

Priestly functions that require extensive education could (and should) be reserved to those fully qualified to administer them, but surrogates could, with hierarchal approval, serve the needs of a now-needy faithful.

Call it a "dumbing down" of the priesthood, but it would get a job done that badly needs doing.

Granted, that sort of thinking is pretty far out of the dogmatic box, but the end is desirable and the means do no violence to the basic tenets of Christianity (as opposed to the Churchianity which is failing to fulfill the subject end).

If you think that's a radical idea, how 'bout if somebody told you that there was a marginally literate Third World native woman performing intricate surgery without ever having gone to medical school? And that she had won the recognition and admiration of the best in her profession, as well as a Nobel nomination?

Now, THERE'S a nutty notion, eh?

NOTE TO READERS: Joe’s Opinion Column is published in 178 newspapers nationwide.  If you would like to receive Joe’s Opinion Column directly, you may join Joe’s “Kith & Kin” list by sending your name and e-mail address to JoeKlock@aol.com, with "SEND OPINION COLUMNS" in the subject line.

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