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Este mês na história médica - possa: "The Pill" Is Approved by the FDA

por Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | May 09, 2009
Although the Pill is
relatively new, it may
not have been the
first oral contraceptive.
This report originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of DOTmed Business News

On May 9, 1960 the FDA gave approval to a drug that has perhaps done more to reshape society than any other. On that day, it approved the world's first birth control pill. Obviously the impact was far reaching - nearly fifty years later, shorten it to "the Pill," and people know exactly what pill is being referenced.

Although the Pill is relatively new, it may not have been the first oral contraceptive. In the early 600s B.C. Greek colonists founded the city of Cyrene (in present day Libya). They soon discovered an herb that seemed to do it all - it was used as a spice in cooking, occasionally eaten as a vegetable and used as the first oral contraceptive. Unfortunately, it seems that the overwhelming need for . . . spices eventually led to the plant becoming extinct around 100 A.D. Today, it only exists as depictions on ancient Roman coins. Scholars believe it's possible that the herb, which is thought to have been some type of giant fennel, could very well have been effective in birth control given that many species in that family of plants are known to have estrogenic properties. It was literally worth its weight in silver, if not gold.

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More than two millennia would pass before an oral contraceptive would again be made available. This time, it was considerably more involved than just putting together a salad and there was much more controversy.

Condoms, which had first seen use to prevent pregnancies around 1730, most notably by Giacomo Casanova (yes, that Casanova) began mass production with the patenting of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear in 1844. The contraceptive industry was soon booming which led to attention from the U.S. government. In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Law which forbade all forms of contraception. Manufacturers quickly shifted gears and marketed their products for "feminine hygiene."

For women, an advocate for birth control was found in Margaret Sanger. The sister of 10 siblings became a nurse to help poor women on the Lower East Side of New York deal with unplanned and unwelcome pregnancies, after the death of her mother, at the age of 50, whose health had suffered from the numerous pregnancies. Eventually Sanger left nursing to dedicate herself to distributing information about birth control. She went to Europe to found a paper called "Woman Rebel," and upon her return to the states was charged with "mailing obscenities," under the Comstock Law. She fled the country for Europe again and her case was dismissed. Soon after returning to the U.S. she founded the American Birth Control League (which would later change its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America). She was also responsible for creating the first birth control clinic in America, an act which resulted in her being sent to a workhouse for "creating a public nuisance," due to the Comstock Law.