In the National World War II museum, it is easy and even triumphant and pride-generating to look back and see some of the scientific advances made during World War II. There’s no doubt that science is advancing. But I wonder if our ethics can keep pace.
I am fairly proud of Teflon. And synthetic cortisone is widely used and may have saved plenty of lives. It’s a steroid that knocks down the action of the immune system. When a medical substance becomes cheaper and easier to use and known to the public, then it runs a real danger of getting overused. Most concern about overuse is focused on illegal steroids taken by athletes. Nevertheless, everything that can be helpful and fast may make things worse. One example would be the over-prescribing of steroids to kids with allergies.
Penicillin had been invented before WWII, but its use did not become widespread until WWII. Of course, it took people awhile to find out about the ability of bacteria to develop resistances to antibiotics. This has led to newer and stronger antibiotics, which would not be the worst thing in the world. Unfortunately, the excessive use of antibiotics has led to untreatable infections, such as methicilline-resistant strep and an untreatable strain of tuberculosis. Read more on Science and War (and Ethics)…
I remember when I was very tiny, getting a TB (tuberculosis) skin test as part of some public school campaign. It was negative. My parents were pleased with me, but they never had any doubts that I would be “clean.” They said something about poor people with poor hygiene being at risk, but not nice middle class folks like us. No problem.
Fast forward to a far more vivid memory. I had to get another TB test in France when I attended medical school there. It was a hassle, as I had to get someone to take class notes for me while I went to a cavernous and overwhelming public health office.
I was in line with all the rest of the “aliens” as the laws required me to be. There were people who looked more terrified than I — young mothers from North Africa with four or five young children orbiting around them like out-of-control satellites. Unlike this frightened young lady, at least I knew what they were going to do to me — even though I was only a first year med student. They called it a “scarification.”
There was a very petite nurse who had to reach up to give me some scratched parallel lines on my left shoulder. It was the BCG, the “Bacille de Calmette et Guerin.” They told me that it was a strain of tuberculosis that had been developed in Lille, a few miles to the north of Amiens where I was, and that it was a gift to the world. It was a benign form of tuberculosis that would give me immunity. Read more on Antibiotic Abuse — We Are Creating Monster Epidemics…