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October 17: The Creator of Norplant

October 17, 2014
PIIS014067361060219X.fx1.smlSheldon Segal, a biochemist who in 1991 developed Norplant, a progestin-based, slow-release subcutaneous birth control treatment, died at 83 on this date in 2009. Norplant proved to be a controversial medical device and was ultimately removed from the market twelve years after it was approved by the FDA. By then, several judges had ordered its implantation into poor or mentally incompetent women, which Segal vociferously protested: “I am,” he wrote to the New York Times, “totally and unalterably opposed to the use of Norplant for any coercive or involuntary purpose. It was developed to improve reproductive freedom, not to restrict it.” Segal also developed intrauterine devices and spent five decades improving women’s birth control; according to James Sailer of the Population Council, which first hired Segal as assistant medical director in 1956, “We estimate that something like 120 million women around the world have used a contraceptive device developed under Shelly’s leadership.” In 1970, he founded the International Committee for Contraception Research, an international clearinghouse to promote contraceptives that could be used around the world. Segal argued in the late1990s that a monthly menstrual cycle is not “natural” or beneficial to women, who through most of human history would menstruate infrequently because of frequent pregnancies, child nursing, and physical demands. ‘Birth control that really works: Every night before we go to bed we spend an hour with our kids.” —Roseanne Barr