REFLECT

Model stories written by young professionals/students.

 

Notes from the Mad Scientists' Laboratory

 

“Eureka! I’ve found it!” exclaims the man in the white coat, with red, sleep deprived eyes and hands shaking in desperation as he holds up a tiny vial to his assistants and colleague.

“It took you long enough,” remarks the colleague snidely. “10 years and thousands upon thousands of the government’s money too.”

“You’re just jealous that you’re name won’t be on the patent,” replied the frantic yet ecstatic scientist whose lab goggles were steaming up in his frenzy.

“Excuse me doctor, I see that this formula has you both up in arms, but do you mind if I ask what it does?” inquired the curious young assistant. “Does it cure the world’s most deadly disease? Does it save millions of lives?”

“Even better, son. It prolongs life with that disease, making us millions and millions of dollars instead. The world may be no better off for it but my world will; I’m going to be rich one day thanks to this little miracle.”

You would think this conversation was overheard in the lab of Dr. Frankenstein’s protégée. The doctor with the “cure” seems conniving, evil, and worst of all capable of doing all kinds of good instead with his brilliant mind. He’s using his brain only for selfish purposes and self-promotion. But when we think about it, aren’t we all? Is research really about helping our fellow man or making the world a better place solely for those doing said research in the lab?

All the way from elementary school on, science has become a “competition.” Science fairs, competitive academic scholarships, and even simple letter grades turn the focus from overall accomplishment and progress to personal achievements and degrees we can hang on the wall. The medical world is a self-centered place to some extent, where the massive difference between even the insane and sane is no longer distinguishable as doctors and hospitals refuse to see past their own noses anymore (Rosenhan, 1973). Are hospitals really even helpful or are they simply “counter-therapeutic” institutions? That these types of questions even have to be raised provides the base for a crumbling, unsteady medical system where no one is really getting any assistance other than the big businesses and their bottom lines.

Curing cancer, curing AIDS, curing even simple medical issues like acne could save millions of lives, but it could also cause the collapse of the world economy and political systems as we know it today. Western medicine and its’ focus on hard and fast cures and drugs has become, “a major political mission,”(Kleinman, 1995). Cancer isn’t just a disease: it’s a billion dollar industry employing thousands of researchers, radiologists, techs, etc. who rely on its continuation for their livelihood. “Cures” that prolong life without really changing the outcome of illnesses and require constant administration of drugs, visits to doctors, and more long, drawn out measures can cause a huge boom in this micro-economy however. In an ever-unstable political and economic climate worldwide, money drives entire countries to do crazy things. So which cure is the one that helps out the most people in this case? The doctors above seem to think they’ve found the answer. It just may not always be the one that benefits the most sick people in every case.

To some of those ailing patients, however, the hospital is a “temple” and the doctor is, in a way, playing their own personal God (Miner, 1953). They feel that they must do whatever the doctor say in order to stay alive. But if the doctor is more worried about keeping their business alive, patients may intentionally or unintentionally suffer as they rely on temporary relief and expensive elixirs they can’t even afford to “beat their disease.” It should really be left up to the patient whether an extra six months or so of lower-quality life is what they want, but it seems like all too often the alternatives to what the doctor first recommends aren’t really explained.

“Science”-based harsh approaches and over-“medicalization” have detached the medical system from the patients it was originally created to help ,”(Kleinman, 1995). Research, as a part of medicine, no longer holds its original purpose either. Doctors fixated on money and cures that work across the board (instead of working on a person to person basis)  have become the norm in labs all over the world. That sad observation leaves us with one final question about the present biomedical culture: Are the researchers and doctors the mad ones in this case, or are the patients mad for accepting their word as law and not asking who these cures really “fix” things for?

-Catherine Graham

Works Cited

Horace Miner. "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema" American Anthropologist, 58, no. 3 (1956): 503-507. Print.

David L Rosenhan. "Being Sane in Insane Places." Science 178 (January 1973): 179-185. Print.

Arthur Kleinman. "What is Specific to Biomedicine?"  Writing at the Margin: Discourse Between Medicine and Anthropology Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Print.