Until recently, ATEOTD was a regular feature at The Slog. It’s always tried to represent an oasis of reflection in a world driven by knee-jerk mob reaction. Tonight’s edition is no exception.
My first father in law was a doctor – a gp to be precise – and many years ago we fell one day to discussing the shortcomings of his profession. He was well aware of these – arrogance, overpromise, narrow-mindedness, turf wars between specialisms and so forth. My own bug-bear with health practitioners has always been twofold: the rush to publish ‘certainties’ which then turn out to be anything but; and what I called the ‘God complex’ of senior consultants – a form of auto-divinity in relation to their ability to cure. Frazer (my father-in-law) agreed with the last point in particular, memorably adding, “It will be a sad day for all of us if senior members of my profession are ever given too long a leash. There are a lot of almost fanatical megalomaniacs out there”.
Mercifully, he died before the Covid19 dark comedy arrived. As the above paragraph shows, he was not without prescience. Needless to say, he was also in awe of some astonishing developments in medicine – as indeed was I. Unlike many GPs, he was a tireless attendee at seminars about new frontiers, and read medical journals nonstop. We both admired the radical (and, thank God, maverick) radio surgery head at Hallam Hospital in Sheffield, without whose pioneering stereotactic brain radiosurgery my elder daughter would’ve died. Today, almost every hospital in the UK offers the treatment, and thousands of children and adults survive who would otherwise have died needlessly. For we her parents in 1993, it was a miracle – a surge of untold joy – when the specialist finally said, “I’m very happy to say your daughter is completely cured”.
The Hallam pioneer was a sort of Barnes Wallis figure who triumphed despite Whitehall, not because of it. Yet he was almost devoid of ego: all that space was taken up with determination and compassion. He remained very matter-of-fact in his manner – there are no wards named after him, and no knighthoods were bestowed upon this remarkable man. But there are two things above all that have changed since then.
The first is medical ethics via the concentration of global Pharma on research funding; and the second is a culture obsessed with success and money at all costs.
Medicine is a profession littered with metaphysical, moral and plot-loss hazards at the best of times. With the arrival of free UK medical care in 1948 – and the ghastly memories of perverted medicine at the hands of the Nazi doctor Mengele still fresh in even the dimmest of minds – an NHS culture was created wherein the ethical balance of every new practice was rigorously interrogated.
At Hallam, the stereotactic team didn’t need pharma funding – it was almost pure mechanical hitech without drugs – but it did need money. In the teeth of furious bureaucratic opposition, the group funded itself via charity donations and foreign patient fees. The “standing” of the hospital was not an issue, and the money was only a means to an end.
As for egomania, the fame and material success cancer has continued to take hold in a society with less and less interest in the metaphysical, the right and wrong interventions for medicines to make, and the dangers of ‘playing at God’. All this has not only clouded and diluted the average citizen’s judgement about motives, on the other side of the coin it has allowed the fanatics Frazer foresaw (along with Aldous Huxley and others) to persuade a craven political class to give quite unnescessary emergency powers to medical bureaucrats, immunity from the law to Big Pharma, but disastrously, an opportunity for central banking, investment and media moguls among the Davos Gigarich to sieze their chance for a Fourth Reich.
A more religious age had doubts about many forms of medical intervention. Even the one that saved my daughter’s life could be seen as questionable: her brain malformation was a piece of crappy manufacturing that “shouldn’t” have allowed her to reproduce. In my father’s family, we all have a very high sensitivity to septicaemia – my Aunt lost a leg, my father very nearly his foot: but antibiotics have meant the unnatural survival of all of us. Those drugs, as we know, turned out to be a severely double-edged sword.
This is of course a heartbreaking thing to even write about: when my daughter was ill, I would’ve worshipped the Devil himself to cure her. All I submit is that we need to put a stop to what one might call “Full ahead Both into the iceberg field”. Technology, medical care and digital software are at the forefront of this Titanic Captain madness.
Overpopulation in and of itself is partially a result of medical intervention. The low perinatal mortality rate and longer survival times all put pressure on a very limited supply of potable water on the planet. The profession spends a fortune on extending longevity when, it is my opinion, they’d better serve us all (by the side of real rather than ersatz politicians) were they to focus on improved quality of life for everyone, rather than the length of it.
Power is in all the wrong places and all the wrong hands in all the sizes and all the colours. If Contrick19 has taught us anything, it is that such power must be returned to people elected for their ideals – not left with gargoyles who think the Earth and the human race should be their plaything.