The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update


December 11, 2012

Jim Bailey: Do we add spanking to the list of possible cancer causes?

Forgive the analogy, but there has been a war on spanking going on for many years. And now it has found its way into the realm of medical research.

The latest foray is a British study of adults in Saudi Arabia (a country where corporal punishment, often severe, historically has been the norm) that strongly suggests a link between physical abuse, specifically including what we call spanking, and such maladies as cancer, heart disease and asthma. The study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, found those who had cancer were 70 percent more likely to have been beaten as a child, those with cardiac disease 30 percent more likely and those with asthma 60 percent more likely than among a similar group of healthy adults. It all supposedly has to do with stress.

It seems whatever one’s bias, a study can be cooked up to give credibility to that point of view. And it turns out there were other factors in play in the study: the healthy folks on average were younger and had more education, the latter also being true of their mothers. And the healthy group was taken from nurses and administrators, while we aren’t certain about the sick people’s backgrounds.

My, my. It makes the plethora of us who were spanked during our childhood wonder how we avoided debilitating illness. At age 73 I have yet to be diagnosed with any kind of malignancy, and my heart is in pretty good shape for a septuagenarian; I have had only a suggestion of any respiratory condition, probably owing more to my weight than to the amount of stress inflicted during my childhood by the board of education. Same for my wife and her siblings, whose discipline occasionally included something more than the palm of the hand (ever have to pick your own switch?).

And our kids? When we needed to get their attention, we occasionally resorted to a degree of physical contact. I confess mine was more threatening than real, with the result that the kids sometimes stifled laughter among their crying. Usually the threat was more than enough, though. Bonnie kept a paddle hanging in the kitchen, and when she grabbed it the kids immediately toed the line; I don’t think she ever actually used it.

Funny how something like corporal punishment that used to be considered the norm has found its way into the agenda of those fighting child abuse. Delaware, for instance, this year became the first state to pass a law effectively outlawing corporal discipline. It purports to be addressing child abuse, but it specifically redefines laws to include any act that causes “pain.” Seems to me that temporary pain is the object of spanking.

But the battle goes on. Recently when complaints were lodged about paddling at a Texas school, the school board actually expanded the school’s authority to use corporal punishment.

What next?

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at

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