Readers may be interested in a recent exchange of views between Clay Rogers, a journalist with a newspaper in Iowa, and Paul Trusten, Vice President of UKMA’s sister organisation in the USA.
From 3 March 1969, it became illegal in the UK to use any system of weights and measures other than the metric system for dispensing prescriptions – older readers may remember being issued at the time with a 5 mL plastic spoon. It may, therefore, come as a surprise to learn that in the USA medieval measures such as the grain and the scruple were still in use in pharmacies until recently.
Paul Trusten uses his experience with these archaic and irrational measures to promote the completion of the metric changeover in America. Of course, the world has moved on and very few medicines nowadays are made up to order in the local pharmacy. But the debate on measurement systems continues, both in the USA and in the UK, and Paul has taken this opportunity to make a useful contribution.
Here is is the link to Clay Rogers’ article:
This is Paul’s response of 24 April:
Dear Mr. Rogers,
Thank you very much for your column opposing U.S. metrication. I appreciate your focused opinions. You are eloquently passionate about your stand on the subject.
It was hardly fanaticism or a desire to be clever that drafted me into the quest for a metric America. Neither was it out of partisan politics or intellectual conjecture. It was patient safety in healthcare.
About 40 years ago, while still a pharmacy student, I was working through a homework problem on calculating weights to be used in the measurement of ingredients in the compounding of prescriptions. There was a page in my workbook divided in half. On the left was the beautiful, romantic system of scruples, drams, and grains that, to me, left much open to error. On the right was a series of those toe-counting decimal numbers of grams, and the weights were to be added with one instruction: “add everything to get a total.” How simple and how clear, I thought, and indeed, how SAFE, especially if it was being used exclusively.
From this starting point, I grew up to believe that a country using one system of measurement is a safer country to live in. This is not a matter of accumulating data on the subject, but simply the idea that there is a chance that our non-metric culture alone could kill people.
A number of medications are dosed based upon the patient’s weight, or, a little more subtly, a patient’s body surface area. If the outside culture generates an opportunity to confuse measurement units, or if a conversion is done incorrectly, a massive overdose can result. If this occurs with some powerful anti-cancer drugs, we have the irony of the instrument of lifesaving becoming transformed into the instrument of life shortening. I do not think that preventable accidental death is romantic at all, nor should it be subservient to the insistence upon romance. That is not Orwellian, but human.
But, the metric system itself grew on me. I like its decimal millimeter simplicity as opposed to the constant need to interpolate eighths vs. sixteenths of an inch on an inch rule. And, as a citizen in a standards-loving nation, I wonder why THIS standard, one of measurement has not been adopted fully. This isn’t “progress”, a word often brandished as reminiscent of trying to pave over the Grand Canyon. For our country, it represents catching up. The metric system of measurement is ordinary, not radical.
I am 63 years old, and I share with you much of the same sadness in what I view as the decline of what is beautiful to me, too. I read your list of complaints, and I said to myself, “check, check, check.” But, to shun long-overdue convenience when it is possible, and worse, to tolerate confusion even in the face of danger, is ugly.
The term for a planned changeover to the metric system as the Nation’s sole measurement standard is “metrication”, not “metrification”, because there is no “if” in metrication, only “when.”
Paul Trusten, Registered Pharmacist
Vice President and Public Relations Director
U.S. Metric Association, Inc.
Midland, Texas, USA
Readers who are curious about Imperial measures may be interested to know that:
3 scruples = 1 drachm
8 drachms = 1 ounce apothecary or troy (31.103 5 g)
12 ounces troy = 1 pound troy
16 drams = 1 ounce avoirdupois (28.349 5 g)
7000 grains = 1 pound avoirdupois