Friday, January 11, 2013

Medical ethics - not medical techniques - are probably the leading way to decrease or increase deaths due to war

How doctors and nurses morally regard all of their fellow human beings, rather than how they medically treat their actual, relatively few, patients, is probably the number one determinate in whether wars are relatively bloodless or particularly bloody.

The entire culture takes many of its moral cues from the medical professionals and when they (as in WWII Germany and America )  sanction or even advocate neglecting or killing those judged lesser than others, this attitude bleeds across the whole country and into the actions of its troops --with horrendous consequences.

But when doctors and nurses publicly stress , particularly in wartime , that every life (even those weak and destined never to be able to contribute much directly to the war effort) is infinitely valuable and infinitely worth saving, they indirectly shorten wars and reduce bloodshed.

Because wars drag on and killing is unlimited when (a) participants feel that the other side is so worthless that it isn't wrong to kill them even after they surrender and (b) the other side is reluctant to negotiate a surrender, correctly believing they will then be all killed after they laid down their arms.

The Geneva Conventions do shorten wars and do reduce war deaths when all sides accept them and act upon them , observing the spirit of those conventions, and just not 'the letter of the law'.

In many ways, the Allies failed to observe the spirit of those conventions.

By way of pointed contrast, Henry Dawson felt it critically important that his nation be publicly seen as expending great efforts to save the lives of its most worthless citizens, even in the midst of an all-out world war.

Hence his accelerated offering of a little penicillin-of-hope for two young men dying of invariable fatal SBE infection, precisely on the morning of October 16th 1940.

He wasn't assuming it would actually save their lives, but it might* , and he was determined that they and their families would know that all efforts possible had been done to save them, despite being in a teaching hospital gearing up to focus on 1A war medicine instead.

(* Just as Dawson hadn't given up his place in a WWI  stretcher for the battlefield wounded to a man triaged as dying, in the belief that it would thereby save his life, only that it might and was worth a try.)

These two youths  can be regarded as representative of all those  about to be regarded as the 4Fs of the 4Fs, "mere useless mouths", as the first day of America's first peacetime draft registration process remorselessly triaged American citizens into those worthy and those unworthy.

Green Ward or railway siding ...

This relatively inexpensive simple act, Dawson felt, if extended  to all of America's weak and sickly, would reassure all of its citizens, all those of neutral and occupied nations, even all those of enemy combatant nations, that joining such a nation as an ally or surrendering to it, would not result in their own deaths.

Sometimes, as Medicins Sans Frontieres has shown time and and again ,the publicly perceived ethics of doctors have done far more to save lives than any surgical or chemotherapeutic procedure they could devise.

Doctors, whether in a terminal SBE "Green Ward" at Columbia Presbyterian or at a railway siding at Auschwitz, set an crucial example that all the rest of society observes and acts upon......

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