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Obstetricians seek recognition for Chinese pioneers of safe abortion

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 12 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1332

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  1. Rebecca Coombes
  1. 1London

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, 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 …

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