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Byron Shire
May 26, 2024

Frogs, fertility, toads and drugs 

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Surviving science. Photo www.rawpixel.com

My mother inculcated me with a love of science, which somehow survived a run of sadistic chemistry teachers who staggeringly discouraged creative experiments in the lab. 

Like making LSD, and smallish explosive devices. 

So, I have enjoyed researching the principal method of human pregnancy testing from the 1930s to the late 1950s. 

Frogs and toads. Women would deliver their urine to a pharmacy, where a frog would be injected with same, and if the frog laid eggs within 18 hours then bingo – pregnancy was confirmed. 

Eventually, it was discovered that male toads would excrete sperm within only a few hours. Quicker bingo. 

Thousands of frogs were bred specifically for this purpose, employing multitudes on pond farms. 

Cane toad

In Australia, cane toads were sent from North Queensland all around the country to enable testing for women from Perth to Parramatta. Hospital pharmacies had amphibionologists, whose sole task was to care for and inject the Kermits. 

This makes me look at cane toads somewhat more affectionately now, knowing how excitedly they react to pregnancy of their human friends. 

As an aside, the frogs/toads could be reused every couple of weeks, and the worldwide spread of the star performer (the African Claw Frog) led to catastrophic consequences for other species. There’s one for the trivia night! 

What has intrigued me, in this coalescence of science and law, is the moral outrage from the Christian prudes who utilised quarantine, constitutional and animal law to try to inhibit the movement of toads interstate. 

Shock, horror, that women should actually have the means to obtain knowledge of their own health status, lest it lead to wild sex parties with questionable moral abandon. Underlying this was the horrible concept that women, if they knew they were pregnant, had health options that were best served early, rather than late. 

And late abortions were more dangerous, and thus the deterrence from sex even greater. This seriously was the argument that was put in editorials and court cases. 

I guess these opponents were people where you could tell how many times they’d had sex by the number of children they spawned. 

Oh, I scoff, what sort of backward thinking existed in those days – knowledge should be hidden, even if it causes death, because otherwise people might do more naughty business for purposes other than wanted reproduction. Deterrence by capital punishment. 

It is time to provide pill testing to prevent deaths. 

Outdated thinking 

And then it hit me. We have exactly the same sort of deranged and outdated thinking right now. 

The only reason to oppose pill testing at festivals is that it sends the wrong message, and that it might make recreational drug use safer, which may mean that some who otherwise would not use drugs will, because they know what they are taking. But in the 1940s and 50s this absurd thought spasm on toads was limited to a litigious Jesus fringe, not governments and police services and doctors’ groups.

As a coroner, I dealt with the families of those who had died at doofs and festivals, and the tragedy of life cut short was exacerbated by the knowledge that the death was preventable. 

In NSW, the Ice Inquiry, and the deputy state coroner have recommended a testing regime. Pill testing occurs in over 30 countries, and is proven to reduce harmful use and prevent deaths. Yet here we are, with Labor governments in every mainland state, and only one place to test – Canberra. Yes, Queensland has plans, but we will see if they ever come to pass. 

NSW Leader Chris Minns. Lachlan Hyde (Wikipedia).

Here is what Chris Minns said about pill testing recently: ‘I don’t want to be in a situation where people believe because there’s the absence of compromised drugs, that they’re safe to take when they’re not.’

Here’s a quote from an editorial in 1953:

‘Toads lead to early diagnosis, and early diagnosis leads to comfort in risk-taking enterprise, and that encourages a belief that depravity is safe. It is not.’ 

Yep. So it is better that young experimenting fun-loving people die retching in their own vomit on untested impurity-ridden junk drugs. Just like it was better that women in the 1950s were unable to know if they are pregnant. 

There is no safe level of sex/drugs blah blah blah. Sigh. 

Anyway, I have started collecting cane toads from capture programs, and I am injecting them with ecstasy which contain a range of additives to see if this provides a simple test for impurities. 

So far, the pests just lie on their backs, spread their legs, and smile for hours. Lots of croaky copulation and swervy hopping too. Except when I put strychnine in, and then they really croak. But I will persevere in my efforts to create a simple, at-home frog test for illicit drugs. 

The perfect mix of science and law. Mum is so proud. 

♦ David Heilpern is a former magistrate and is now Dean of Law at Southern Cross University. 

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  1. Fantastic article David…..parents need to get out on the streets next and demand pill testing….in every Labor state at least.

  2. No it’s not ‘global climate’ killing off all the frogs, the ubiquitous use of the pill is “…turning the friggin’ frogs gay!”, as Alex Jones famously warned you. It’s actually turning them transgender. The percentage of human children thinking they are gay/transgender has doubled every generation since the pill was invented, and fertility rates have dropped to unsustainable rates. The number of children raised without a Father has been doubling, and everyone is complaining that society isn’t working properly. Mind-altering female pregnancy hormones have saturated the water, soil, and food, so let’s legalise hard drugs in the middle of this dysfunctional mess. What could possibly go wrong?

  3. I apologise for all the answers that are not in support of our young people. I am now well over the age of Majority, but remember well my risk taking when I was young. The Law will never be able to stop risk taking of the younger generation, but at least we can take steps to ensure the risk taking is not lethal. I seem to remember reading about the trial in Canberra, & many of the people asking for the drugs to be tested, actually did not proceed to use them after they were counselled (which is part of the pill testing regime). To my mind, this is a chance to communicate with the young before they take the pills. Even if we only stop a few, it is still a step in the right direction. Also those people will discuss their decision with their friends, so spreading the message.
    The Law does not work when people do not believe in it. This is one reason the Anti-drug laws are not working. Traffic laws work because everyone realizes the need for mutual respect on the road. Drug laws it seems are not respected. Draconian legislation only sends the problem underground & helps the Criminal element (funded by some anti-Philanthropist rich…). De-Criminalising drug use & treating it medically seems to me to be the long term answer. Medical responses seem to be working against smoking, here is hoping the same goes for drug use.
    Great article David! Keep it up & Do not listen to the wowsers.


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