Professor, Sir Dugald Baird

16 November 1899 - 7 November 1986

Dugald Baird was born in Beith, in Ayrshire and after being schooled in Greenock Academy went on to read science at Glasgow University.  He graduated MBChB in 1922 and undertook further training at Strasbourg University.  He proceeded with MD with Honours and was awarded the Bellahouston Gold medal in 1934 and fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1935.  His earliest appointments were at Glasgow Royal Maternity and Women’s Hospital, Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Glasgow Royal Cancer Hospital being senior assistant to the Muirhead Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Glasgow University.  He had already built up a reputation as being a rigorous scientific investigator by the time of his appointment as Regius Professor of Midwifery in Aberdeen in 1937.

In 1951 he established the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank to link all the obstetric and fertility -related events occurring to woman from the defined population of the north-east of Scotland.  Having established this “Obstetric Medicine Research Unit” he went on to attract and develop many academic clinicians to work with him.  He identified the problems of high parity and was instrumental in developing policies and fertility control bringing about the changes identified in the act of 1967 which dealt with sterilisation and abortion reform.  

His approach to women’s health was holistic at a time when the aim of obstetric care was safe delivery of the baby and an ‘intact mother’, hopefully alive and undamaged. He named freedom from excessive fertility with a high parity risk to many women as the “the Fifth Freedom “. This was crucial in influencing the reform of the abortion law in 1967. He also encouraged women who had completed their family to be sterilized.  He set up the first free family planning clinic in Aberdeen as well as sterilisation and safe abortion. He led on major initiatives in clinical practice, service provision and health policy in reproductive health, perinatal and maternal mortality and social obstetrics.

His support for the termination of pregnancies for socio-economic reasons with the service being offered as part of the NHS in the 1950s, created the impression that abortion was rife and was available “on demand”.  This however was far from the truth and it was simply his emphasis on the need to liberate women from the burden of frequent childbearing that motivated his work in this aspect of women’s health.

With support from the Medical Research Council he developed the Obstetric Medicine Research Unit (OMRU) along with the MRC Medical Sociology Unit which he had established, research conducted in 1955 within these units was able to exploit the two unique features of north-east Scotland; -a region with a stable population and a centralised medical service which allowed long term follow up of women and their families. As honorary director, he created ‘social obstetrics’, and much of what he pioneered later became commonly accepted practice.

He became Dean of the Medical School and his contributions to obstetrics and reproductive medicine was recognised by a knighthood in 1959, - also being given honorary degrees by six universities ( including an honorary LL.D. from his alma mater-Glasgow University) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.  He was made a Freeman of the City of Aberdeen in 1966.  His international fame had spread and while he served on many local medical and charity committees he was also a consultant to the World Health Organisation and travelled extensively.  He died in Edinburgh aged 86 years.

Knighted (1959)
Freeman, City of Aberdeen (1966)
Honorary degrees from universities of Glasgow, Manchester, Wales, Aberdeen, Newcastle and Stirling,

A fifth freedom?:  British Medical Journal, 13th November, 1965, 1141-1148

Obituary BMJ Vol 293 29 Nov 1986 p1446
BMJ (Clin Res Ed) 1987;295:378

Image: Portrait courtesy of Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society