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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 6, 2008


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2008;299(5):584. doi:10.1001/jama.299.5.584-b

Reports just received from Virginia indicate that the vital statistics bill, now before the legislature, will probably fail of passage. The bill is drawn along the lines recommended by the census department of the national government, and endorsed by the Conference on Medical Legislation of the American Medical Association. It is also in harmony with the recommendations of the American Public Health Association, the American Statistical Association and other competent scientific bodies, yet, according to the statement in the January Bulletin of the Virginia Board of Health, this bill can not become a law, on account of the opposition of the undertakers throughout the state. The Bulletin says: “Why the undertakers should make this attack on a bill which promises so much for preventive medicine is beyond comprehension. The answer is simply and solely because it may give them a little trouble to file the certificate of death with the registrar before burial. This bill was printed and scattered all over the state Dec. 1, 1907, and was sent to every undertaker in the state. Criticisms and suggestions were invited. None was received of any kind whatsoever save from one individual, a city undertaker, whom the bill does not affect.” This incident is a fitting illustration of the way in which needed and beneficial legislation is opposed on account of business interests and for selfish reasons. The need of proper registration of vital statistics can not be denied. The government, to-day, which does not preserve records of births, deaths and disease is at least fifty years behind the times. No European nation, however small or insignificant, would think of doing without vital statistics and proper registration laws. The “Old Dominion” is one of the earliest settled and longest inhabited regions in America, and should long ago have provided for proper registration of the births and deaths of its citizens. Yet in Virginia, as in Iowa, a vital statistics bill has failed to pass because the undertakers of the state object to taking the trouble to fill out report blanks.