The Baltimore Sun

Bill would improve screening of babies

In their column "Protect the babies" (Opinion

Commentary, March 10), Dr. Marc Mugmon and Dr. Lauren Dundes made a passionate argument about protecting babies born in Maryland through the newborn screening program. They pointed out that one of the disorders identified by newborn screening is phenylketonuria (PKU).

As a parent of two PKU children born in Maryland and a past president of the Maryland Alliance of PKU Families, I could not agree more with the authors about the importance of such screening.

I also agree with their central point that newborn screening in Maryland should be mandatory - parents should not be allowed to opt out of tests that can prevent so much harm to children.

However, in coming out against House Bill 216, I think they are making their idea of a perfect bill the enemy of a good bill.

The goal of the bill is to ensure that we have common testing protocols, common measurements and complete follow-up of Maryland babies.

The current process, which allows private labs to perform the testing and follow-up, risks letting babies with severe disorders fall through the cracks.

We need this bill now to protect babies now.

That is why I support HB 216.

Rob Kerr


The purpose of House Bill 216 is to strengthen the state's 42-year-old comprehensive newborn screening program by eliminating its current fragmentation.

Screening should be more than a lab test; it must include follow-up, evaluation and treatment referrals for babies with abnormal results.

At the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, we work with hospitals, pediatricians and new parents to ensure that newborns get the testing and care they need. And we know that a coordinated approach is much harder when different labs are conducting tests, using different methodologies and reporting practices.

Specifically, HB 216 proposes to consolidate newborn testing at the state public health lab for more timely and effective follow-up for babies with disorders.

This program will involve no profit for the state. The user fee charged will support the necessary follow-up and the electronic reporting of the test results.

The authors of the column "Protect the babies" got the numbers of babies screened in Maryland wrong. According to the National Newborn Screening and Genetics Resource Center, there were 76,569 newborns screened in Maryland in 2005.

This is more than the number of births in Maryland because some non-Marylanders gave birth in Maryland hospitals.

Further, Maryland pediatricians test some babies of Maryland residents who were born outside the state.

The language in HB 216 regarding parental consent is consistent with more than 25 years of state practice, regulation and law regarding genetic testing.

The bill will strengthen Maryland's comprehensive newborn screening program, protect babies and be good for Maryland.

John M. Colmers


The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

County schools cut out of the decision

There were a few important details missing from Tuesday's article on Baltimore County's plan to enlarge the Ridge Ruxton School ("School proposal enrages parents," March 11).

First, on the plan to relocate Ridge Ruxton special-education students to a new site and return the Ridge Ruxton School to its original use as an elementary school, it is not true that "state education officials told county school and government officials they 'strongly discourage' building separate special-education facilities."

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, in a January letter to state Sen. James Brochin, wrote, "I am pleased to support the renovation of the current site [Ridge Ruxton] or a new site to accommodate the individual needs of these [special-education] students and their families."

And the plan to build a new school for special-education students in Mays Chapel "fizzled" because County Executive James T. Smith Jr. didn't want to pay for it - period.

This plan had been thoroughly researched for months by Baltimore County public schools, and the school system considered it the best solution available for the Towson-area school overcrowding problem.

Second, the statement that "the proposal to build an addition would be forwarded to County Executive James T. Smith Jr." is a smokescreen.

Both the county executive's office and the county public schools have been very diligent about maintaining a public appearance of collaboration on the Towson schools overcrowding issue.

However, my interactions with the school system strongly suggest that the schools have been cut out of this decision-making process.

Alyson Bonavoglia


The writer is the parent of a student at Rodgers Forge Elementary School and a member of Towson Families United, a group of parents opposed to the plan to expand the Ridge Ruxton School.

Board right to delay Ridge Ruxton plan

No one ever accused the Baltimore County school board of holding interesting meetings. But the one held Tuesday, in which board members publicly admitted they were being pressured by county officials to support a school addition, certainly got a lot of people's attention ("Ridge Ruxton addition vote put off," March 12).

I think it was highly improper for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. to put political pressure on members of our school board.

The board is there to advocate for the best interests of our children.

I congratulate its members for standing up to a county executive whose interests apparently lie everywhere else but with our schools.

John Patterson


Squandering crabs dims shore's future

Is it any wonder there is such a shortage of crabs in the Chesapeake Bay when the people of Handy International sacrifice 152 pounds of crabmeat (500-plus crabs) to do something silly like set a world record for largest crab cake ("Taking the cake," March 12)?

Please, people, let's use our natural resources wisely instead of wasting them on something completely unnecessary.

Wasting our precious resources in this manner does nothing more than kill our future crab population and sacrifice the future livelihood of Eastern Shore watermen.

J. A. Hamilton


Rising population strains resources

Instead of arguing about the burdens and benefits of illegal immigration, it is time to consider the number of people and their consequences ("Data is fuzzy in debate on migrants," March 10).

There are limits to the natural resources of the United States, and of the entire planet. But little thought and effort are going into ways to stabilize the number of people needing those resources.

We do not have to look far for examples of people outpacing limited resources. Just last summer, for instance, Atlanta ran short of water while several other areas were badly hurt by droughts.

Some day, possibly by mid-century, there will be a great movement to stabilize the population of the United States. But by then it may be too late.

People use resources and people pollute; more people use more resources and create more pollution.

Present arguments over the burdens and the benefits of illegal immigrants will seem irrelevant as we all descend toward a poorer world.

Carleton W. Brown


CDC spin won't end concern on vaccines

In The Sun's article "CDC scrambles to reassure on vaccine safety" (March 7), reporter Stephanie Desmon claims that "during the years, despite a small and vocal group of parents who insist otherwise, studies have consistently shown no credible link between vaccines and autism."

But the group of parents is not as small as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would like to have people think. There are thousands of parents across the country - indeed, across the world - who wholeheartedly believe their children were damaged by vaccines.

This is why officials at the Centers for Disease Control are scrambling to spin the story of Hanna Poling.

It wasn't "autism" but "autism-like" symptoms, they say, aggravated by an "underlying condition." And the underlying condition, mitochondrial disorder, mysteriously cannot be detected.

The CDC is splitting hairs because it is in damage-control mode. But the truth has been found by a federal "vaccine court," and the 4,900 cases that will follow the Poling case before the panel will make the matter more and more difficult for the CDC to spin.

Cindy Waeltermann


The writer is the director of AutismLink.

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