Chinese, Australian, and UK obstetricians have organised the translation of a pioneering research paper on abortion by vacuum aspiration, in an attempt to get recognition for its authors 50 years after it was first published.
The research ultimately led to the technique becoming the world’s commonest and safest obstetric procedure. As a result it has probably been responsible for saving thousands of women’s lives.
The first English translation of the classic paper is published online this week in the news section on bmj.com, in the hope of gaining recognition for the researchers, two Shanghai obstetricians called Yuantai Wu and Xianzhen Wu.
“There can be few, if any, surgical procedures that have alleviated more human suffering, morbidity, and mortality than vacuum aspiration abortion,” said Roger Short, who, with Chinese colleagues, translated the 1958 paper, originally published in the Chinese Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Although there is some dispute over whether Drs Wu and Wu were the first to come up with vacuum aspiration abortion, there is no doubt that their paper brought the technique to the world’s attention.
David Paintin, emeritus professor in obstetrics and gynaecology at St Mary’s Hospital, London, and former chairman of the Birth Control Trust, said that the old curettage technique was “quickly abandoned” once clinicians tried suction termination in early pregnancy.
“Prior to suction termination, if you were pregnant and of less than 12 weeks’ gestation, anaesthetic would be administered to the cervix, the cavity stretched, a series of metal rods introduced, and the cervix further stretched up to 12 mm. Using a metal loop, with an edge like a dinner knife [a curette], the doctor would scrape the pregnancy out through the vagina canal.”
But there were flaws, said Professor Paintin. “The disadvantage was that you did not always get a complete abortion. Some product did not come through, so a pair of narrow forceps was inserted into the uterus, which was then opened and turned to take out the rest of the fetal tissue.” Because the uterus is a soft organ, there was danger of puncturing it with the surgical instrument.
“In comparison, with the suction dilation procedure you use a cannula made of flexible plastic and with a blunt tip. You insert for limited distance, and then suction is applied. It is very quick. After curettage technique, suction was so much easier.”