Thursday, October 31, 2013

The OTHER Manhattan Project only made moral arguments rather than A-Bombs : but its impact has been immense

Moral conservatives such as today's American Republican Party frequently argue that morally medical care (such as expensive life saving drugs like Avastin) should only go to those who have worked hard enough to afford them.

They maintain this argument ( hello Obamacare !) even if this means that these drugs as a result of this limited market demand will remain in limited production forever and so be expensive forever.

The opposite moral argument (as made by Dr Martin Henry Dawson in his battle with the Allied governments in WWII) calls for the government to greatly expands the lifesaver's potential market by initially subsidizing the drug so that it available to all regardless of income, geography, race ,gender etc.

It is claimed this will encourage new producers to come in and try and find ways to compete with the established producer by lowering their production costs and hence ultimately reduce the price of the drug to the consumer.

Penicillin G provides the best possible example of this argument, proving the validity of this economical argument beyond all measure.

But greatly expanding the universe of people with affordable access to lifesaving Penicillin G also had an unexpectedly profound impact on the entire world's health.

Unusually cheap abundant public domain Penicillin G saved the lives of many people who are ordinarily too poor or in two remote regions to be treated and who thus remained reserve pools of highly virulent - and contagious - strains of the bacterial diseases that were endemic or epidemic worldwide for millenniums.

In a form of quasi Herd Immunity, billions of us (I estimate ten billion of us so far) have indirectly benefited when tens of millions of us directly had their lives saved by penicillin G shots.

Dangerously contagious bacterial diseases that terrified our grandmothers, that hung like the Sword of Damocles over all households rich or poor, are no more.

Those of us under the age of fifty have never even heard of most of them and few doctors practising today have even seen a single case of them.

The Big Manhattan Project made the A Bomb and made a huge array of massive buildings - it was big in every concrete sense of the word.

By contrast, the other Manhattan Project, that of Dr Dawson, only made moral arguments (and a little home brew penicillin) rather than Bombs or Buildings.

But who can save that this project's impact  - 75 years on - is not way, way bigger than that of the project headed by Robert Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves.... 

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