Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Cure for Auschwitz Disease : "Dawson's Crude" : .56% penicillin ...and 99 and 44/100ths pure love

Pray there comes a day when most premature deaths really are 'Acts of God', when even the best of money and the best of medical care could not result in a happy ending.

But until that happier day, most premature deaths in the world - in peace as in war - are 'Acts of Humanity' , or rather 'Acts of Lack of Humanity'.

Sins of Omission : premature death caused because the people dying are not judged (by others more fortunate) as worthy of devoting much money or effort towards saving.

In war, comparatively few people die as soldiers dying of mortal wounds gained in combat.

The Nazis' behavior provides a particularly clear example of this.

They fed and cared for  the captured POWs and enemy civilians of some nations (the Dutch for example) but for other (Russians and Poles for example) many or most of these people were shot after battle or left to starve and die of disease from lack of food, medical care and shelter.

The food and fuel saved as a result meant that no German citizen went hungry or cold.

The right kind of German civilian anyway.

Using the war as excuse, the Nazis killed many German civilians, those judged 'life unworthy of life' , to free up food and hospitals for other Germans.

In another well known example of  WWII's Sins of Omission, Winston Churchill ignored the pleas of his top British officials in India and let four million poor Bengali civilians needlessly starve to death in 1943-1944 ,rather than divert some food and some shipping from  Allied peoples he judged more worthy of receiving them.

Even the different death rates from wounds gained in combat  , among the so called "modern" nations engaged in World War Two is revealing.

The Americans and British generally devoted more resources to saving their wounded compared to the Germans, Japanese, Russians and Italians.

 As a result,more western Allied troops survived the same severity of wound as experienced by troops of these other nations.

'Of course', I hear you say, 'they were richer nations, it was easy for them !'

But no : they had a choice, because the extra money devoted to this extraordinary care of the wounded could have been allocated elsewhere: to more and better anti-tank artillery, for example.

An extraordinary effort to produce the best anti-tank artillery ever made was , in fact, probably the cheapest way for the Western Allies to have ended the war against Germany at least a year earlier than it did, saving millions of lives all around.

I raise the genuine issue of better earlier anti-tank artillery versus the best possible military health care to remind us that even total war still leaves us with genuine moral choices.

More Lancaster bombers versus more 17 pounder anti-tank guns versus raising everyone's morale by generously providing penicillin enough for all people were some of the choices - part political, part moral, part economical - that leaders had to make in WWII.

Making the wrong ones meant the war dragged on longer than it had to, costing more lives lost.

It is not enough to say Churchill won the war in 1945 ; better to ask, could he have won the war in 1943 ?

In 1940, Henry Dawson was battling a near universal mindset among the world's research-oriented doctors of that time : that a medical researcher's only task was to determine that disease A was caused by bug B and that bug B was killed by compound C.

Then, like sleeping under a bridge, the researchers considered that the cure for disease A was open to rich and poor alike : pay for three weeks of needles at $10 a shot: together with doctors fees, say $250 in total.

When the annual wages of the working poor, if they found work, was very lucky to be $750 in 1940, that was a cure well beyond their reach.

Besides the fact that their disease might be far harder to cure than that of someone well off, due to the cumulative affect of their lack of good nutritious food for years and years.

Or that fact that living, as they did, in poor and crowded housing, disease A was more likely to come back again, even after an impossibly expensive cure.

Now what if disease A is something one gets from having open wounds - such as the open wounds all civilian mothers have after childbirth, or the open wounds that soldiers get after exposure to shell fire in battle.

How do we judge western Allied governments unwilling to provide the only life saver for disease A , either to any civilian moms (except those personally known to lead disease A researchers) or to any soldiers with wounds so severe they will be discharged and pensioned off, if they live ?

And how do we judge these governments when at the same time, they are gladly willing to provide live-saving compound C  (totally free !) to men who had either very high and very low peacetime incomes, just as long as their war wounds (by sheer luck) are only moderately severe and they can be expected to return soon to combat duty ?

Is this attitude not different in kind from that of the Nazis, but merely different in degree ?

Dawson had no realistic expectations that a few small injections of a very crude penicillin powder, hastily made in a few weeks, would cure such an incurable invariably fatal disease as subacute bacterial endocarditis, (SBE), then as now the acid test of all infectious diseases.

His powder had only about 8 to 9 units of penicillin per mg in it ; ie it was only about .56% pure.

The rest (the remaining 99 and 44/100ths worth),was in many researchers' minds, "junk".

Rather as they later described most of our DNA : "junk".

I believe Dawson considered his little bit of brown powder to be .56% penicillin and 99.44% pure love.

99.44% pure care, concern, caring.

For Dawson was judging his attempt to save Aaron Alston and Charlie Aronson by a much different - and much more moral - acid test.

To Dawson, SBE in the Fall of 1940 was not the acid test of infectious disease, but rather the acid test of pernicious morality.

These SBE patients were be judged to be 1940 America's "4Fs of the 4Fs", suffering from the militarily most useless disease on earth and not worthy of wasting any precious medical resources upon.

Now a doctor named Francis Peabody that Dawson had hoped to train with (but who died of cancer before that could occur) had earlier and famously said that the care of the patient begins (only begins in fact ) if the doctor first cares about the patient.

A single doctor can't hope to directly save everyone dying in a big war.

But by setting a very public example about caring for the least of these, those judged "unworthy of life", even in the midst of a war , they can hope to begin to still the trigger fingers of those all too willing to kill prisoners  just because 'it is too much bother to bring them back to our own lines'.

Only when the world is willing to care about "useless" others, even in the midst of wars, can we expect to begin to see war deaths reduced to combat mortal wounds, and then to ultimately see lesser and shorter and less brutal wars.

Only in a world where ordinary people care about others judged "useless", can we expect to still the hand that dropped the pellets at Auschwitz .

Which is why I earnestly claim that Dawson's Crude was the best and only cure for the Auschwitz Disease ....

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