Dorothy Vining (1923 – 20??)

Growing older is something we all do all the time. Growing old is something else again, and I’ve gone and done it. Why, you might wonder, would anyone start a website at the age of 85? At 75 the life expectancy for a white female (that’s me) is about 12 years. So, on average, that should give me a couple of years to get this site underway. A lot can happen in two years. On the other hand, any minute now someone might be filling in the parentheses after my name, above, and call the whole thing off. C’est la vie.

Throughout my life I’ve been writing one thing or another – letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, magazine articles, or just plain musings. We old folks muse a lot, you know. It might be what we do best. Some have been published, some not. When son, Johnny, asked me if I’d like him to set up a website for me, my response was “What on earth for?” and “Who’s going to go online to see if Dorothy Vining has written anything lately?”

By the next morning I knew why I needed to have a website. I had written a tribute for a beloved friend whose life I felt was noteworthy and who had shown me great personal kindness. Though his name was well-known in certain circles I had not succeeded in finding a publisher. If I had a website I could get my tribute to him “out there” before I died.

Without further ado, let me introduce Dr. Herbert Ratner, and, in the process, introduce myself.


A Tribute to Herbert Ratner, M.D. (1907 – 1997)

I was a only a young thing in my thirties. That means it was over 40 years ago. Pregnant with my third child I went to Dr. Herbert Ratner in Chicago in the hope that he could steer me to a doctor who would deliver this baby naturally. My first baby had a very long, complicated delivery, with a short cord, and I was given a spinal block at the end. The second baby was coming so fast that my doctor had not yet arrived, and I was given gas without my permission while being told not to push. The next thing I knew it was “Wake up, mother. Here’s your baby.”

Grantly Dick Read was the natural childbirth guru at the time and I had read his book and even listened to his recording of a mother giving birth naturally. That was what I wanted and Dr. Ratner told me Dr. Gregory White was my man. As an added bonus, Dr. White’s wife, Mary, and six other women were starting a group to help women who wanted to breastfeed. It was called La Leche League and I became a member of the second group ever to be formed. It was at Dr. Ratner’s suggestion that I was asked to write the chapter in the first edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding on The Father’s Role, published in 1958 in the days when breastfeeding was an unpopular way to nurture a baby.

Then came more babies. And more writing. Small articles of mine describing my experiences with breastfeeding, childraising, natural childbirth and family life were published and you might say I was mentored by Dr. Ratner who was THE voice in the area on these subjects.

Then came more babies! And my husband’s unemployment. All of a sudden, I despaired of holding it all together and came unglued. Believe me when I say that people do “snap.” I felt something go snap in my head and I was instantly transformed into a frightened woman who felt like she would literally go to pieces if she set foot in a store, a church, or any place where people gathered. It was classic agoraphobia but we had no name for it then. All I knew was that something was terribly wrong and I needed help. My only hope was Dr. Ratner. I knew he was a Christian and felt he would have to love me even if I had gone crazy.

He did what Christians do. He found time to see me every Saturday after his morning office hours. There was no thought of charging me for my visits. Week after week I would take my nursing baby and endure the trip on the trolley to his office. How I envied the other people on the trolley for whom the ride was still a routine, serene event. We would talk about Dr. Ratner’s work and my life and my writing. I wish I could say Dr. Ratner cured my agoraphobia but his caring was a healing of another sort. The agoraphobia was destined to continue for many years despite psychiatry and medication. I learned that I would not die from it and I could override the fear.

Eventually it yielded to serious prayer. Our family moved to Connecticut leaving behind Dr. Ratner and Dr. White who continued to be the M.D.s behind La Leche League, which now calls itself “the world’s foremost authority on breastfeeding.” As Director of Public Health in Oak Park IL Dr. Ratner took the polio epidemic seriously but he was not one to go along to get along. He questioned the procedures used in the manufacture of the Salk vaccine which he considered too dangerous. Though the vaccine was free, Dr. Ratner refused to give it to children under him and suffered a media blackout for his concerns. Because he spoke the truth as he saw it, Dr. Ratner was relieved of his post as editor of Bulletin of the American Association of Public Health Physicians.

Dr. Ratner died at 90 in 1997. His vindication is finally chronicled in a fascinating article in the February 2000 issue of Atlantic Monthly which describes pathologist Michele Carbone finding “an elderly Chicago-area physician [Dr. Ratner] who had an unopened case of polio vaccine from l955 which he had stored in his refrigerator for more than forty years…..Last summer Carbone finally completed tests on the vintage vaccine. He found that the tiny vials contained SV40 [Simian Virus 40] genetically identical to the strains found in human bone and brain tumors and in monkeys.” When the Salk vaccine was replaced by the Sabin oral vaccine in 1962, some 400,000 people had been inoculated in what has been called a “calculated risk.” My research tells me that FDA-approved polio vaccine has been free of SV40 since 1963.

In a letter to me in 1994 Dr. Ratner wrote, “I’ll not only be promoting children at the Couple to Couple League meeting but I’ve just discovered that I’m listed for a talk on vaccines. It will stimulate me to put together what I have to say about the dishonesty and even the corruption that’s going on in the actionist USPHS.”

He was professor of family and community medicine at Loyola University where he also taught a course in Medical Ethics. Pope John Paul II appointed him as consultant to the Pontifical Council on the Family in 1982. He was visiting professor of community and preventive medicine at New York Medical college.

Dr. Ratner was a Jewish convert to Catholicism partly because of the Church’s stand on marriage and birth control. As a member of the Catholic Physicians Guild he spoke often about the “gift of a child” and the sanctity of life. “Without science we all know that the pregnant woman is a woman ‘with child.’ This is what pregnancy is about: two human beings, two lives, the life of the mother and the life of the child, both patients of the physician.” For 25 years as editor of Child and Family magazine he showed how the revelations from Scripture and from the Book of Nature do not contradict each other.

I look at those old issues of Child and Family and my heart swells. It is all so clear there – the value of the child, the value of the family, the value of nature’s norms, the value of breastmilk to the infant and (even!) the value of semen to the wife. Didn’t anyone listen?

He knew the cure for AIDS, too. It is so obvious. “[Nature] has apparently thrown down the gauntlet with AIDS. It is as if Nature is saying, ‘You have misbehaved long enough, get back to abstinence and monogamy or perish.’ The sooner we live up to this fact of life, the sooner will man’s destiny be secured and the sooner will man reap the benefits of the natural institution of the family, the cornerstone of society.”

Speaking of Hillary Clinton’s health care plan Ratner said that making more money available for health care “will be a hypochondriac’s dream come true–unlimited medical attention.” “Medicine today is basically a fraud,” he said. “What doctors and their patients have forgotten is that nature is our best healer, and that so often we are handicapping nature rather than helping her…. We have forgotten that man is nature’s highest creature, that nature has come up with a body whose hormones and organs are perfected. Yet we are constantly aspirinated, numbed, alleviated, and inoculated and we don’t have the slightest sensitivity that we are dealing with a very delicately nuanced body that we tend to muck up with powerful synthetic drugs and intervention of one kind or another. It’s amazing how many problems can be taken care of without medication or going to a hospital. But it is the hardest thing for a doctor to decide to do nothing–which may be better in the long run.”

Every so often I would write Dr. Ratner when something of mine was published which showed his influence. He would sometimes write back, sometimes phone. The time difference between Chicago and Connecticut was such that his evening calls would often find me asleep and I would try to rouse myself to coherent speech. On one such night he told me he had had a stroke, leaving him with a deficit as described in The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. I promptly got it from the library and was introduced to a new world of neurological illnesses. I was not home the last time he called and found on my answering machine a short message which I do not recall, but ending with the never-to-be-forgotten words “I love you.”

Why had it never occurred to me that he loved me? Christian love is a quiet thing, steady and benevolent. His was a selfless love, recognizing my neediness, seeking only my good. It was the love of a teacher for a student, a doctor for his patient. Not only did he love me, he loved people and babies and truth and medicine and goodness and his God. I grieve now that I did not call back and say that I loved him, too, and had done my best to put to use what I had learned from him. He died soon afterward.

This year it will have been ten years since he met his Maker. Dr. Ratner also loved Thomas Aquinas. It is reported that three months before St. Thomas died in 1274 he said “such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as straw…” Nevertheless I am sure there was much divine inspiration in what they both wrote and we have much to be thankful for in “the straw” left behind. Others have chronicled the brilliance and accomplishments of Dr. Ratner over his long life. I have only wished to present yet another sideways glimpse of this good man and rather belatedly tell him, “I love you, too.”

Let me close with a touching quote from Hippocrates that was one of his favorites: “And if there is an opportunity of serving one who is a stranger in financial straits, give full assistance to all such, for where there is love of man there is also love of art. For some patients, though conscious that their condition is perilous, recover their health simply through their contentment with the goodness of the physician.”

Dr. Ratner’s daughter, Mary Timothy Baggott, M.D., has edited a selection of her father’s writings which were published in 2007 as Nature, The Physician, and The Family. It is available at AuthorHouse and other bookstores. to me

(From, 10/21/110:

The last draft of my Dad’s article is at his archives at Franciscan University in Steubenville Ohio. The only professional papers of his that we kept were the ones on the polio vaccines, and those will eventually go to his archives I suppose: